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James Harden, Rockets Hold off Kevin Durant, Warriors to Even Series 2-2

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2019

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dribbles as Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala defends during the second half of Game 3 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Saturday, May 4, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets tied their second-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors at two games apiece with a 112-108 victory in Monday's Game 4 at Toyota Center.

It appeared as if the two-time defending champions would cruise to their fifth consecutive Western Conference Finals when they won the first two games of the series, but Houston bounced back with two straight victories at home and created a best-of-three scenario.

Houston Rockets @HoustonRockets

Series Tied. The Battle Begins Now. https://t.co/0FULWiz3Pl

James Harden led the way with 38 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, but he missed a critical free throw while nursing a three-point lead with 11 seconds remaining. Golden State had the chance to force overtime, but Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry each missed three-pointers on the ensuing possession.

Durant (34 points, seven rebounds and five assists) and Curry (30 points and eight assists) each put up impressive totals but will surely be thinking about those late misses after losing a second straight.

         

James Harden Proving He Can Finally Beat Warriors and Rewrite Legacy

It appeared as if the Warriors were going to take control of Monday's contest in the closing stretch of the third quarter.

Curry drilled a deep three and connected on a layup, Durant was heating up and the two-time defending champions closed a 17-point deficit to four while silencing the home crowd. That's when Harden connected on a step-back three and layup at the buzzer to push the advantage to nine and send a message heading into the fourth.

He's not backing down this time.

Jared Wade @Jared_Wade

Harden is Mozart out here on the bounce. He's just slicing up everyone, everywhere. This is a joy to watch. Not settling for anything, just creating constant advantages. Unstoppable.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Harden and Durant are scoring machines. According to @EliasSports this is the 1st time in NBA history that opposing players have averaged 35+ PPG in the first four games of a playoff series. https://t.co/Zc7WwVfBFX

Harden dictated the pace throughout the game and has looked like the reigning MVP in the last two contests (41 points in Game 3) instead of the one who shot just 37.4 percent in the first round against the Utah Jazz's unusual defensive alignment, which featured defenders standing behind him.

It may have taken a game to adjust to the change in style from Utah to Golden State and an eye injury that appeared to hamper his vision, but an adjusted Harden is now troubling for a team he hadn't previously figured out.

While the Warriors are the league's biggest obstacle after four straight trips to the NBA Finals and two straight titles, Harden's Rockets were on the brink of eliminating them in last year's Western Conference Finals with a 3-2 lead. That's when Chris Paul suffered a hamstring injury and the Rockets missed 27 straight threes in Game 7 on their home floor with Harden as the focal point.

It was far from Harden's only playoff failure.

His lone NBA Finals appearance came as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he scored in single digits during three of five games in a loss to the Miami Heat. He was eliminated in the first round in 2013 and 2014, scored 14 points in the closeout contest of the 2015 Western Conference Finals (a five-game loss to Golden State), lost to the Warriors in five games in 2016 and scored 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting in the closeout game during a 2017 second-round loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

Harden is a two-time scoring champion who could win a second straight MVP this season, but his postseason failures and inability to get past Golden State have prevented him from building the same legacy as some of his peers. He will also be 30 years old next season and may be running out of chances to rewrite that legacy in his prime.

Kevin O'Connor @KevinOConnorNBA

We're witnessing a masterful offensive performance by James Harden. He's in total control of the game.

NBA TV @NBATV

James Harden has passed Chauncey Billups on the all-time #NBAPlayoffs 3PM list! 👌 https://t.co/re0ZRtODxR

Josh Eberley 🇨🇦 @JoshEberley

Harden is absolutely unstoppable right now

But considering how he's playing, he has his best opportunity against this iteration of the Warriors.

Harden has taken control of a series featuring the likes of Durant and Curry, is at the peak of his powers as an individual playmaker after averaging a career-best 36.1 points in the regular season and is playing a Warriors team that was an unspectacular 11th in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com, and has struggled to contain him.

This is Harden's chance to end the Warriors dynasty, and he proved in the last two games he is capable of doing just that.

            

What's Next?

The series returns to Oracle Arena for Wednesday's Game 5.

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