Houston Rockets guard James Harden turned in the finest postseason performance of his still young NBA career in propelling his team to a 128-115 game 4 victory. He did so with his team facing elimination for the fourth time this postseason. His playoff career high 45-point effort in game four of the western conference finals ensured the Rockets would extend the series and their season for another game and kept alive their hopes of being the first team in NBA history to win a series after falling in a 3-0 hole. But let’s keep that off in the distance a bit, since that’s really where it is, way off in the distance, three wins away. Houston just grabbed their first win in eight games against the Warriors over the course of this season.
Now back to Harden, who has been an offensive force this entire season and on into the playoffs. The best news for Rockets fans, though, is that he has turned it up a notch in the western conference finals against an elite team and an elite defense. It’s also not the first time Harden had raised his offensive game in the conference finals. It’s his third trip to conference finals, first with Houston – and as the chart below depicts (click for larger view), this is his finest playoff performance to date.Remember the totals for his four game ride against Golden State includes his game 3 clunker, 3-of-16, 17 point performance. Here are Harden’s offensive numbers in each of his 13 career postseason series.
The Warriors have thrown Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and others at Harden, and he’s continued his effective, efficient performance. Here’s his shot chart through four games.
In his 45-point game 4 performance, Harden was getting it done against all comers. According to SportVu player tracking data, Harden scored 20 points on 10 isolation plays and another 15 points on 16 ball screens.
Houston won their pair of titles in 1994 and 1995 and then advanced in the playoffs each of the following two seasons. Since then they had advanced in the playoffs only one time. Just one playoff series victory since 1997, until this season. Twice they have advanced this postseasons and in doing so the Rockets, like their championship teams are showing incredible ability to stave off elimination. Since Harden arrived in Houston, the Rockets have won seven times when facing elimination, including their current four straight wins in that situation. They are 7-2 overall with Harden in elimination games, although if that record doesn’t rise to 10-2, the Rockets will have lost all but 1 of the series they faced elimination.
Then again if they stave off elimination and advance this time – they will have made NBA history.