Harden, McHale differ on what's a good last shot
The Rockets traded for James Harden because they believe he is an elite player and could lead the franchise to great success for years to come.
Believing he was an elite player in the NBA, the Rockets signed Harden to a five-year, $80 million contract at the start of the season.
Harden is acting the part of the best player on the team and one of the best in the league, demanding the ball during the crucial points of the game with the expectation that the ball will be in his hands with the game to win or lose hanging in the balance.
These are the facts, they are not in dispute.
The only problem is Kevin McHale and Harden have taken these facts and gotten sideways during the ultimate results-oriented crucible, the NBA playoffs.
Harden held the ball on the Rockets’ last three possessions in Game 4, taking the other players out of the offense and launching two threes and a long two that missed, allowing the Thunder to have a chance to either win or send the game to overtime.
“Obviously, I didn’t play well last night but all my other teammates did,” Harden said. “They picked me up, made big shots, made big plays, especially down the stretch. Me missing three shots down the stretch, we got a charge, a couple of great defensive plays and efforts.”
Where Harden sees teamwork in picking up a player having an off night, McHale sees as a failure to maintain the offense that put the Rockets in the lead.
“We drew stuff up to get movement and motion, a double screen… Stuff that’s worked for us the entire series,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “We just held the ball. We’ve got to attack. We hold it too much at the end of the game. We’ve got to attack with enough time that we let our offense do what it has to do which is pass and move. Believe me, we discussed that a lot.”
“They were good shots. I stepped back, created space. I was just cold, not having rhythm,” Harden said. “I sat out the entire fourth quarter so if have those opportunities again, same play.”
When asked what the Rockets should do if they find themselves in the same situation Wednesday, his answer was predictable.
“For sure, do the same thing," Harden said. "Do the same thing.”
Those statements were made the day after the Rockets squeaked out Game 4 over the Thunder, meaning the two failed to connect on late game strategy following Monday’s win.
Despite the misses on Monday, the bigger point is the Rockets still won, despite the offensive failure. In truth, if Harden makes one of the three shots then this might not be as big an issue.
But winning is supposed to be the cureall, and it clearly isn't in this case.
The closest the two came to agreement on is that sometimes the proper strategy is to hold the ball. But even with that admission by McHale the two sides are miles apart.
“If we’re up seven or eight with 1:30 left, then you run the clock down, but not in a one and two possession game. We want to attack and be aggressive offensively,” McHale said on Tuesday. “At times we get passive. We hold the ball and try to see everything and to be perfect. Sometimes you’ve got to attack and be aggressive and play the way we play basketball.”
Harden, in Games 2 and 3, held the ball in the final minute of one-possession games against the Thunder, firing outside shots over the defense and failing to connect on any of them.
If Harden and McHale can’t get on the same page over the next 24 hours, how will the Rockets topple the Thunder when they can’t pull in the same direction?