• James Harden broke the Internet after he dropped Wesley Johnson, stared him down and flushed a three-pointer. The Crossover analyzes the play and what it means for the Clippers and Rockets feud.
By Rob Mahoney
March 01, 2018

Whatever tension existed between the Rockets and Clippers—from the manner of Chris Paul’s exit to the secret tunnel shenanigans back in January—dissipated the moment James Harden dropped Wesley Johnson. 

The play in question began typically enough, with Harden sizing up his opponent in isolation. Both Harden and Chris Paul would love nothing more than to run pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll, but the simple fact of their being teammates opens up all sorts of mismatches. Some come from the desperate switches of opponents tired of watching Clint Capela’s alley-oops, others from the reality that most teams don’t have the personnel to adequately defend Harden and Paul at all—much less for 48 minutes.

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This case is the latter. Johnson isn’t a bad choice to defend Harden relative to the Clippers’ other options … but he’s also not immune from being shown up on national television. Watch and revel in the horrors that Harden brings, in this case so casually as to come almost by accident:

The way Harden leaves Johnson hanging in that moment is cruel, but perfect. There is no scurry back to his feet. No desperate attempt to contest the shot. Johnson knows the score and Harden—in two seconds that felt like 20—decided to let him stew in it. For all its memorable staredowns, rarely does an NBA player have the opportunity to gut his opponent with a look as a play is still in progress. Harden seems almost taken aback at one point at what he had done. You can see his normal shooting rhythm come to a grinding halt: his grip resetting, his feet settling, and his eyes locked on Johnson. Even if the shot had missed, the damage had been done.

Clippers fans were overtaken by the moment. Houston’s bench nearly stormed the court. And it was then that this faux rivalry revealed itself for what it was: a temporary irritation between two teams operating on completely different planes. With Harden’s three, the Rockets went up on the Clippers, 31–7. By the end of the first, Harden himself had outscored the Clippers 22–12. Nice as it is when both teams come to a regular season game with a message to send, this time it was Harden who yelled the only one that mattered on his way back down the court (if you’ll mind the lip read): “GOD DAMN.”

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)