Until James Harden leads the Houston Rockets to a NBA championship, some people will always look at him as someone who falls apart in the playoffs.
Once again, James Harden finished as the runner-up for the MVP Award, despite putting up superior offensive numbers to the winner. This isn’t the first time Harden has controversially fallen short of the MVP, as many argue he should’ve won the award in 2015 over Stephen Curry and in 2017 over Russell Westbrook.
Harden didn’t make an appearance at the 2019 NBA Awards, but that didn’t keep him from being included in a few jokes.
Comedian Hasan Minhaj made a light-hearted joke about Harden during the show. As Minhaj pointed out some of the best superstars in the room, he mentioned that James Harden didn’t show up, and compared it to the long-running joke that Harden disappears in the postseason.
Minhaj’s joke wasn’t out of line, because he didn’t say anything personal. Nor is it unexpected to hear comedians poke fun at athletes at an award show. However, the joke only drew a reaction from the crowd because there is a popular narrative that The Beard isn’t a playoff performer, and it will likely persist until Harden figures out a way to win it all.
In the 2019 playoffs, James Harden finished second in points per game with an average of 31.6, just behind Kevin Durant and ahead of Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Add to that an average of 6.9 boards, 6.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game in the postseason, and its hard to see what else Harden could’ve done.
He was even better in the second round against Golden State, increasing his scoring to 34.8 points per game and averaging 4.5 made 3’s per game against their talented defenders.
It’s no secret that Harden has had disappointing performances in the playoffs in the past. He struggled mightily in the 2012 NBA Finals and his series against the Spurs in 2017 was one to forget.
However, almost every superstar has struggled in at least one playoff series. In Game 5 of the 1997 playoffs against the Utah Jazz, Kobe Bryant shot an air-ball on four consecutive attempts in the final seconds of regulation and in overtime, eliminating the Lakers from the playoffs.
In both the 2007 and the 2011 NBA Finals, LeBron James looked like a lesser version of himself. Many fans once mocked LeBron because of his inability to step up in the big moments. Eight years and three championships later, many fans now consider James to be one of the best playoff performers ever.
After Shaquille O’Neal was traded away from the Lakers in 2004, some critics said that Kobe would never win a championship again, implying that Shaq’s three Finals MVP’s proved he carried Kobe to a three-peat. But Kobe quieted the haters once again when he led the Lakers to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
Winning is the solution to everything. Most of the criticism around Harden’s game in the postseason is unfair, but if he wants to shake it for good, he’ll have to lead Houston to a championship and hoist that elusive Larry O’Brien trophy over his head. It’s the only way he can shut the haters up for good.