• After a magical MVP-worthy regular season, James Harden and his Houston Rockets fell flat at home in Game 6.
By Ben Golliver
May 11, 2017

James Harden’s MVP-caliber season came to a screeching halt with a no-show performance in an elimination loss to the Spurs on Thursday night.

Houston’s All-Star guard managed just 10 points (on 2-11 shooting) and 7 assists in a 114-75 home loss in Game 6. The Spurs, who were without all-Star forward Kawhi Leonard due to an ankle injury, will advance to face the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, which begin on Sunday.

Although Harden has been dogged by criticism of his postseason shortcomings dating back to his shaky showing in the 2012 Finals for Oklahoma City, he’s never suffered such a shocking and high-profile defeat.

“Everything falls on my shoulders,” he told reporters after the game. “I take responsibility for it. Both ends of the floor. It’s tough, especially the way we lost at home for Game 6.”

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Harden tied his season-low with 10 points, he set a new season-low with 17 combined points and assists, and he set a new season-low by posting a -28 in 37 minutes. His 10 points represented the fewest he’s scoring in a playoff game since becoming Houston’s franchise player in 2012. One of the league’s premier threats going to the hoop didn’t hit a single shot inside the three-point arc and he earned just six trips to the free throw line.

Afterwards, Harden told reporters that he wasn’t suffering from any injuries, although Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni noted that his star guard had been “battling a cold” throughout the series.

“I really just didn't have a rhythm in the beginning of the game,” Harden said. “It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating, definitely. The way we were resilient all year long. We’ve been fighting through adversity and really good at bouncing back. It hurts. It stings. We have to figure a way to get better and we will. Credit to the Spurs. ... They’re a really, really good team, extremely well-coached. They were a better team this series.”

The Rockets’ early deficit and overall lack of energy were baffling. Harden was a major contributing factor on both counts. He didn’t take a shot and committed three turnovers in the first quarter, and he had just five points by halftime when San Antonio had already built a 19-point lead. The home crowd at the Toyota Center booed the Rockets off the court.

There would be no dramatic comeback. The Spurs pushed their lead out to 42 points in the second half, with many Rockets fans heading to the exits early.

“They did a really good job of corralling, showing bodies, their bigs at the rim, things like that,” Harden said. “I couldn’t really get a rhythm, especially to the basket. Pau [Gasol] did a really good job at using his length at the rim.”

With 3:15 remaining in the fourth quarter, Harden fouled out with San Antonio leading by 37 points. By the end, Houston had tallied a season-low 75 points, the second-lowest scoring total since Harden’s arrival in 2012. Remarkably, D’Antoni’s high-powered offense had topped 75 points in the first half on three different occasions this season.

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“I don’t really want to litigate what just happened,” D’Antoni said, when asked about Harden’s off night. “It happens. I told the guys, they had an unbelievable year. We were above all expectations. They battled like crazy. For whatever reason this game, we didn’t have the juice, we didn’t have the stuff. Right across the board. … Some nights, life hits you in the face.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich improved to 20-6 in the playoffs against D’Antoni, remaining a perfect 5-0 in head-to-head series between the coaches. Popovich’s Spurs have never needed a Game 7 to eliminate D’Antoni’s Suns, Lakers and now Rockets.