Clippers-Rockets: Harden Proves MVP Candidacy In Game 5


May 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dribbles against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first quarter in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs. at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

After taking a commanding 3-1 series lead, the Los Angeles Clippers dropped game five 124-103 to the Houston Rockets. And once again proving his well earned MVP candidacy in the process, was James Harden.

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“Fear The Beard” has now become one of the best expressions in the basketball world. Not just because Harden has a great beard, but because he’s one of the deadliest players in the NBA. His facial hair and cooking pot celebration have become his trademarks, which have added an extra bit of entertainment to his already impressive arsenal of scoring techniques. And even though he wasn’t able to overcome the Clippers during the earlier stages of this series, he did manage to give his Rockets a glimmer of hope last night, and remind us why he was such a strong MVP candidate all year long.

It’s not as though he needed a triple double to prove his worth, because there are hardly any players capable of being responsible for 42.8 percent of their team’s entire offense (he accounted for 44.5 points per game through his scoring and assists this season). Yet it was the way he illustrated how he can step up on the biggest playoff stage — with his team’s season on the line — that reminded us why he’s become one of the top few players in the NBA.

He finished second in the league in scoring with 27.4 points per game (and only lost due to Russell Westbrook’s triple-double surge towards the end of the season), finished first in free throws made (715), ninth in assists per game (7) and first in win shares (16.4).

Those are great numbers, but it wasn’t enough to top Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors’ 67 win season. They simply took control of the Western Conference and recorded a win margin of 10.1 points per game. And that’s worthy of an award for their best player.

May 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) lays the ball up against Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) in the second half in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Rockets won 124 to 103. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

In this series, Harden has endured an incredibly difficult challenge facing the Clippers. Not just because of their superstar players in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but because their bench has stepped up.

Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford have collectively averaged 28.4 points per game this series, and even Spencer Hawes was able to make his minutes count last night with an 11 point effort on 5-of-7 shooting. However, in game five, Rivers and Crawford revealed their somewhat streaky tendencies and combined to go just 5-of-21 from the field.

The elite performance of the Clippers’ deadly one-two punch continued, as Griffin finished with 30 points and 16 rebounds whilst Paul ended the night with 22 points and 10 assists. Their performance aside, though, the bench couldn’t rise to the occasion (even J.J. Redick made only 3 of his 12 shots) and the Rockets prevailed behind Harden’s triple double.

The Beard tallied 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. And with Houston’s season on the line, he couldn’t have done much more.

To really emphasize his second place MVP candidacy, Harden showed the resolve he needs to give his team any chance of winning this series. Of course, the fact it was a win or go home situation makes his performance impressive, but illness meant he had even more to deal with in the Rockets’ biggest game of the year.

On Tuesday afternoon, Harden received an IV and coughed and spluttered through his postgame interview. And even though it might not be on the level of Michael Jordan’s famous “flu-game”, it still showed the grit that any leader needs to have.

He didn’t just show up in game five by sinking a quick flurry of three pointers to give his team a boost, either — he put on an all around performance to make as much impact as possible.

And with Trevor Ariza (22 points, 8 rebounds) and Dwight Howard (20 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks) by his side, Houston prevented this series from being a total blowout.

May 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) warms up before playing against the Los Angeles Clippers in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs. at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

It by no means completely saved the Rockets or gave them an advantage to continue to the next round, but Harden’s MVP worthy night gave them as much confidence as possible to at least try and make that happen.

If the Clippers can shake off this loss and maintain their composure and intensity, they can put the Rockets to rest in game six and advance to the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

All they need to do is put a quick stop to Houston’s momentum through Griffin and Paul dominating as usual, and their supporting cast simply making shots. It’s easier said than done with The Beard in the way, although until last night, they were in total control with back-to-back 20 point wins.

The Clippers are still in control, but Harden has managed to at least give his team some hope and new found resilience with his MVP caliber performance.

Next: Clippers-Rockets Game 5 Recap