SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers breaks down all the playoff action from Saturday night’s slate of games.
James Harden has had nights where he only scored 22 points before, but he hasn’t had too many like this one. At the 7:34 mark of the fourth quarter in the Houston Rockets’ 104-101 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, Harden had not made a single field goal, going 0-for-15.
Such slumps happen; they are a part of basketball. You don’t expect them to happen to a player who has been lights out all season while redefining the game. Yet there it was, through miss after inexplicable miss, until Harden finally broke his drought with a powerful dunk.
There are a few ways to look at Harden’s strange evening as the Rockets took a 3-0 lead of this first round series in Salt Lake City. One is that having endured such a dip, it is statistically unfathomable that he will do again, at least not any time soon.
Another is that Saturday’s shooting go-slow is an indicator that Harden has either been overworked during the regular season, or is not necessarily as unstoppable as we thought.
Or even that this is the best thing that could have possibly happened to the Rockets, for so long plagued by accusations that they are over-reliant on Harden, who has a serious shot at winning a second consecutive MVP award.
This win will go some way toward allaying those fears, although Harden was still mightily productive even as his shot failed him. He had 10 assists and finally, with the game in the balance, he discovered his touch.
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“We don’t look at percentages,” teammate Chris Paul said during the ESPN interview on the floor. “We believe in him and we kept going to him in the fourth.”
Harden never lost faith in his shot, nor his ability to influence the game. He drained a huge 3 with 1:10 remaining to extend the lead to four and then drew a key — and contentious — foul on Rudy Gobert moments later.
Houston has been the better team in this series and now sits one win away from what should be a second-round showdown with the Golden State Warriors.
They also have arguably the best player in the sport, even though it didn’t feel like it for the entirety of this game. On his worst shooting night, he still found a way to manufacture a win, which might be one of the quirky outcomes in an extraordinary individual season.
Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno.