Here is a link to my Friday column about Game 2 between the Warriors and Rockets. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — When the buzzer rudely sounded and the Warriors had beaten Houston 99-98, James Harden, the Rockets superstar, one of the world’s great basketball players, fell to his knees and put his elbows on the floor and rested his head on the hardwood.
It’s easy to know how he felt. He had held the ball with just seconds left and his team behind by one point. It was a typical Harden moment, the quintessential Harden moment. He would drive the lane and score. He had done that all night. It’s why he was the leading scorer among both teams — 38 points.
But he didn’t drive down the lane. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson converged on him, although “converged” doesn’t describe it. They trapped him. And then they knocked the ball away. Andre Iguodala grabbed the ball and flung it down the court. And the buzzer sounded. And Harden had missed his moment. Failed.
After he picked himself up for the sad lonely walk to the visitors’ locker room, he slapped a barrier in the tunnel. In the locker room, he kicked over chairs. After a while, he walked to the interview room. Black beard on white shirt. His voice was almost a whisper. He described that last play.
“Got the ball off the glass and I’m thinking, ‘Just try to get an easy one.’ They did a good job of having two guys on me, so I couldn’t attack. And when I looked up, I saw a red jersey and it was Dwight (Howard), so I tried to throw it back to him. I’m thinking five seconds on the clock, so I tried to get the ball back, and it was still two guys right there, and I watched the film. It’s just a tough, tough play.”
Harden’s grammar trailed off at the end. Or maybe he skipped ahead and left out certain details, like how he lost the ball. He was describing the chaos he experienced. The words for chaos elude. And he was describing failure and he could not stay on subject. Who can blame him?
“Frustrating to give the game away like that for myself,” he said, returning to the subject that obsessed him. “But my teammates and coaches were behind me, just saying that we’re going home now. Ten out of 10 times we take that play. It’s still frustrating when I know I could have gotten a shot up.”
Let’s take a moment to praise Harden. You’re probably a Warriors fan, but honor the opponent. Harden played a brilliant game, and the Warriors still won. To their credit. But they know the truth. It was virtually Harden against the entire Warriors team. OK, Howard helped, too. But come on.
Harden stays on the ball a long time. In the schoolyard they’d call him a ball hog. He bounces the ball and looks around, and everyone else is waiting. Then he starts to move. And now it gets dramatic.
He drives through the forest of bodies and the thicket of arms reaching out for the ball, but he keeps the ball like it’s glued to his left hand. And he moves down the lane, slower than you’d think. And he lays the ball in.
Along the way, someone somewhere fouls him, or he fakes getting fouled, jerking back his head and giving lots of body movement like someone getting riddled with bullets in a video game. He could win an Academy Award playing the victim. He usually gets a foul shot.
Or he doesn’t go to the basket. He passes to his teammates, some of the sweetest passes on Earth — that lob to Howard the big man catches on Mount Olympus and slams through the hoop.
Or Harden stops dead. Klay Thompson is usually on him, Thompson wind-milling his arms, his face red with effort. Thompson is an elite defender. But Harden jumps back, away from Thompson into a no-go zone.
Nothing Thompson can do. Harden shoots that little jumper. Swish. Never in a hurry, as if 24 seconds are an eternity. As if time in his hands is elastic. He is an ooh-and-ahh player. Someone you must see to believe.
He described his style. “When I’m aggressive, everything opens up for myself and my teammates. Dwight gets layups, our shooters get shots. It’s all about staying in attack mode. Just got to be aggressive and make the defense play honest.”
Here is Steve Kerr on Harden: “Well, you know he gets a head of steam going towards the rim and it’s tough to stop. Obviously, he can shoot that pull-up shot and he can get all the way to the rim, and he’s a great passer. I mean, there’s a reason he was just named First-Team All-NBA and second in the MVP voting.”
Harden lingered in the media room. Gracious. Available for all questions. Like, how is the team’s mood? That old standby.
“We’re really confident about what we have going on,” he said. “We let two slip away and now we go back to Houston and take care of business. We’ve got to compete the way we’ve been competing, but being smart and not giving up those easy buckets and we’ll be all right.”
It was an interesting statement. But it lacked understanding of the Warriors. Harden and his coach Kevin McHale think the Rockets gave up easy buckets and, in McHale’s words, that’s “correctable.” Not likely.
The Warriors bury teams with easy buckets. Easy buckets is what they do. A game is close and then it’s not, and it all happens so fast and the opponent, the Rockets, can’t comprehend. The Rockets cannot comprehend the Warriors.
“We’re going back home to get two games,” Harden said.
Sure, that’s the plan. But only one fact matters. James Harden failed at the crisis moment. The defining moment. And now his team is down 2-0. And the Rockets haven’t beaten the Warriors one time this entire season.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn firstname.lastname@example.org.