James Harden picked one helluva time to lay an egg.
Despite facing a San Antonio Spurs squad that was missing its best player, Kawhi Leonard, Harden and the Houston Rockets folded on Thursday night, losing the game by 39 points and the series 4-2. Harden, one of the MVP frontrunners, was absolutely atrocious. He had more turnovers (six) and fouls (six) than made shots (two). He finished with 10 points and seven assists on 2-of-11 shooting, including a 2-of-9 clip from downtown.
Afterward, Harden accepted blame for the Rockets’ loss and first-round exit:
Harden: "I take responsibility for it. It's tough, especially the way we lost at home. It happened. We have to move forward."
— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) May 12, 2017
This didn’t stop Twitter from absolutely roasting him, and it won’t prevent the hot takes from coming in thick and fast. That Harden has struggled in pivotal moments before, such as Houston’s come-from-behind Game 6 win against the Los Angeles Clippers in 2015 and his lackluster NBA Finals performance with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012, only adds fuel to that criticism.
But bad games are a part and parcel of basketball. It doesn’t matter if you’re a star, or how good you were during the regular season. These things happen. They just do. And Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni was smart enough to acknowledge that during his postgame presser. There’s no one reason behind Harden’s struggles—though MDA did say he was battling a cold. He had a bad game, a really bad game, at the most inopportune time possible.
That shouldn’t be used to define his legacy or detract from his MVP status. We should be better than this by now—ready and able to recognize that, yes, Harden is at fault for how Game 6 unfolded, but he should not be denounced in a way that uses this one game, or even a handful of others, to deliver a referendum on his career or place in the league.