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It wasn't all that long ago that James Harden was a one-man wrecking crew that forced the Toronto Raptors to do something crazy. 

Back in 2019, Raptors coach Nick Nurse decided to "experiment" with a strategy, as he put it, in order to slow down the then-Houston Rockets superstar amid the hottest stretch of his career. Every time Harden stepped across halfcourt, the Raptors swarmed him with a second defender, forcing him to give up the ball and ensuring the Rockets' lead guard wasn't going to single-handedly win the game.

Did it work?

Not really. Harden was held to just 23 points, well below his season average of 34.3, but the Rockets as a team lit Toronto up, with 22-for-55 three-point shooting courtesy of eight three-pointers from Ben McLemore.

Three years later and only some things have changed. Harden isn't quite the same player he was back then, his supporting cast with the Philadelphia 76ers is much better than that 2019-20 Rockets team, and while Toronto isn't quite as aggressive against the now-32-year-old Harden, Nurse's respect for the former MVP remains clear.

Through two games of the playoffs, Harden has yet to bury the Raptors with his offensive firepower. He's scored 22 and 14 points, respectively, and is shooting just 34.6% from the floor and 4-for-15 from two-point range. And yet, Toronto's hyper-aggressive defense on Harden has allowed the 76ers' lead guard to burn the Raptors as a playmaker for others to the tune of 20 assists and 49 points assisted on in two games.

"It’s tougher to guard the guys that beat you with the pass than the guys who shoot 30 times," said Fred VanVleet following Wednesday morning's shootaround. "James has been dictating the game, controlling the game from the point guard spot. We still have to worry about Joel, obviously, and then Tyrese and Tobias and those guys it feels like they’ve been making every shot. But James has been locked in, and from a point guard perspective, I’m just trying close down some of those passing lanes and make things more difficult and crowded and contested."

One option for Toronto is to play Harden more one-on-one. So far in the series, the Raptors have been helping toward Harden. Whenever he has the ball in isolation, the Raptors shade over in his direction, leaving corner shooters open for three-point jumpers or driving lanes to the rim. They're afraid, instinctively, that leaving Harden in isolation is going to be an easy bucket for one of the greatest scorers in NBA history.

But Harden isn't the same player he was back in 2019 when he waltzed into Toronto having scored 40 or more points in five of his last 10 games. That explosiveness isn't the same and the Raptors have defenders who have so far shown they can stay in front of him more often than not.

It's not in Nurse's DNA to just play one-on-one against a player of Harden's caliber, but the first two games in this series have shown that stopping Harden comes at a very high cost. With the way Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris are playing, Toronto needs to adjust.

Further Reading

Scottie Barnes attends shootaround without walking boot, Gary Trent Jr. cleared to play

Raptors continue to exude confidence despite daunting hole: 'We've been here before'

Joel Embiid praises Nick Nurse but says Raptors coach needs to stop 'b****ing' about calls