Rockets' James Harden Says He Has 'Nothing to Prove to Anybody' on Defense

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2020

Milwaukee Bucks' Robin Lopez moves around Houston Rockets' James Harden during an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)
Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

There has long been a narrative that James Harden is a poor defender.  

NBA Twitter users have seen the memes and jokes. There have been highlights of missed assignments. And yet, his offensive numbers usually help account for any perceived struggles on the defensive end.

However, it was his defense that shined in crunch time of the Houston Rockets' 120-116 victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. Harden helped lock down Giannis in the closing stretch as the Rockets overcame an eight-point deficit in the final three minutes.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Harden put the clamps on Giannis in crunch time 🔒 https://t.co/dPdgdHg9vX

He wasn't exactly in a talkative mood when it came to the individual matchup, although he added "I don't have nothing to prove to anybody" when it comes to his defense:

Kelly Iko @KellyIkoNBA

James Harden on whether his defense on Giannis should prove a point to those who doubt his ability on that end: “ I don’t have nothing to prove to anybody. Nothing to say.” https://t.co/ffSpKi6zeO

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

James Harden on how difficult it was to guard Giannis: "Next question." https://t.co/LXEWRHcSk7

That the defensive performance came against Antetokounmpo made it all the more memorable. After all, the two have a long history of taking jabs at each other, and Giannis famously said his team targeted whichever man Harden guarded near the end of the All-Star Game.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Harden and Giannis have history 👀 https://t.co/yXLsxT9Ivt

The last two MVPs were critical parts of Sunday's matchup. Harden finished with 24 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and six steals, and Antetokounmpo countered with 36 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists.

However, Russell Westbrook played the role of offensive hero for the Rockets, scoring or assisting on 11 of his team's 16 points in those last three minutes and drilling four clutch free throws in the final minute after the Bucks retook the lead multiple times.

The point guard consistently attacked the basket, pulled up from mid-range or found teammates for corner threes when double teams came, spearheading an offensive effort that saw the Rockets attempt 61 three-pointers in all.

The cliche "live by the three, die by the three" may come to fruition for the Rockets during the playoffs, but playing lockdown defense can help make up for a poor shooting day.

Harden proved he can do just that against the league's reigning MVP, even if he doesn't believe he had to prove it to anyone.