HOUSTON – James Harden put up one of the worst performances in NBA history in an elimination game on Thursday night, scoring just 10 points and turning the ball over six times as the Rockets lost by 39 points at home to a Spurs team that was playing without Kawhi Leonard.
But after the game, Harden said it was all part of his strategy to marshal his energy.
“The NBA playoffs is a lone grind and you have to pace yourself or you’ll have nothing left for when it matters,” Harden said. “What was the point of me giving my all in Game 6 if I’d be too tired to go all out in Game 7. It’s illogical. Coasting through this game was what I had to do to give us any shot of winning Game 7 on the road.”
Harden said he decided on the strategy before the game when Leonard was ruled out.
“My teammates shouldn’t have needed me to win the game tonight,” he said. “I think I made it clear from the first minute of the game that I had no intention of playing hard or well. They had to step up, but they didn’t. I’m at peace with how I played. I would have been very good in Game 7 if my teammates had done their part to get me there. I wasn’t asking for much.”
Rockets forward Trevor Ariza confirmed that Harden has been pacing himself all playoffs.
“He told us at the start of the season that if we make it to the NBA Finals and to Game 7, he would give full effort on the defensive end of the court for the final possession of the game,” says Ariza. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t make it happen. I would have loved to see James play defense.”