James Harden has had a successful career with the Houston Rockets, but many of his worst NBA moments continue to come against the San Antonio Spurs.
Much to the enjoyment of San Antonio Spurs fans everywhere, the Houston Rockets are not having a good offseason. After their flame-out against the Lakers in the postseason, they’ve lost their coach and general manager, and now both of their stars appear to want out as well.
Not long after it was reported that Russell Westbrook wasn’t happy with his role on the team, James Harden is now trying to force his way to the Brooklyn Nets. Given how many assets the Rockets gave up to get their power duo, the fact that neither of them are unhappy is disastrous for the franchise.
Given that Houston has always been one of the Spurs’ biggest rivals, it’s not exactly heartbreaking to see what’s happening — in fact, it’s pretty funny. San Antonio itself is in the midst of a quasi-rebuild that will likely see a star depart this winter, but their wealth of youth and assets still put them in a better position than the Rockets as of now.
Since the news is leaning toward James Harden potentially leaving the team he put on the map for the past eight seasons, now is the perfect time to look at some of his lowlights against the Silver and Black over the years.
Next: No. 3
3. The Dunk that didn’t count and a blown 22-point lead (2019)
It’s not often you lose a 22-point lead in the second half of an NBA game. It’s even less likely that you have a breakaway dunk that counts for no points. Yet, James Harden was the victim of both happening in a December 2019 matchup with the Spurs in San Antonio.
With the Big Three out of the picture, the Houston Rockets had won six of the last eight showdowns with the Spurs, including three straight in the 2018-19 season. They seemed primed to keep the momentum going at the AT&T Center last year, extending their four-point halftime lead to 22 toward the end of the third quarter.
At this point, Lonnie Walker decided he had enough. Walker ended the quarter with a couple of buckets, giving San Antonio some semblance of momentum going into the final frame. Here’s where things got wacky. After picking off an errant pass from DeMarre Carroll, Harden had a breakaway dunk that ended up doing this:
The refs really didn't count this Harden dunk ? pic.twitter.com/tkpFWpqu9f
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 4, 2019
Of course, we all know by now that the basket was good, but the officiating crew didn’t see it that way, disallowing the bucket in what would turn out to be a two-overtime thriller. Lonnie Walker had the best game of his career to finish with 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting to propel the Spurs to a nailbiting 135-133 victory over Harden and the Rockets.
Harden dropped a cool 50 in this game, so it’s not like he had a poor showing by any means. Still, the way the game ended up has to be a sore memory for the superstar. The Rockets, predictably, decided to officially protest the end of the game to the NBA due to the blown call, but the complaint fell on deaf ears.
Next: No. 2
2. The Block – Rockets @ San Antonio Spurs, Game 5 of the 2017 WCSF
In looking at the box score, James Harden had a perfectly fine Game 5 with the Houston Rockets looking to take a 3-2 lead in San Antonio. Harden finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in the effort, hampered only by a game-high nine turnovers. So why is this still a blemish on Harden’s career against the Spurs? Two words: Manu Ginobili.
With San Antonio hanging onto a 110-107 lead with 9.3 seconds left in the game, the Rockets won a jumpball that ended up in James Harden’s hands. After switching onto James, Ginobili allowed Harden to blow past him to the 3-point line, which is exactly where he wanted him. The result was one of the most exciting plays in San Antonio Spurs history.
Not only did Harden turn the ball over more than the entire Spurs team, but his last-second swatted attempt became iconic in San Antonio — resulting in shirts, fiesta medals, and more.
More importantly, it gave the Spurs the confidence they would need for a Game 6 on the road without their best player — which leads to Harden’s next painful memory, which occurred just two days later.
Next: No. 1
1. The Meltdown – San Antonio Spurs @ Rockets, Game 6 of the WCSF (2017)
Not only was Harden’s Game 6 his worst game against the Spurs, but it was the worst game he’s ever played in his career. With Kawhi Leonard sidelined due to injury, the Rockets were heavy favorites to extend the playoff series to a deciding Game 7 in front of their home crowd.
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San Antonio inserted the inexperienced Jonathon Simmons into their starting lineup alongside Patty Mills, Pau Gasol, Danny Green, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Still, the Spurs built a 61-42 halftime lead that they’d only add to in the second half.
Behind 34 from Aldridge and 18 from Simmons, the Spurs throttled Houston in embarrassing fashion at the Toyota Center.
With their 39-point victory, the Spurs ended the Rockets’ season and gave the ultimate ammo to all Harden critics going forward. In the game he was supposed to dominate, James scored just 10 points on 2-of-11 from the field, compounding that with six turnovers.
It’s not often you see a team held to 28.6 percent shooting from the field, yet the Rockets did exactly that with their season on the line.
Now with Harden looking to bail on a Rockets team that’s imploding, he could find his way to Brooklyn to reunite with Kevin Durant. Or Houston could hold him to his contract commitment and make things work with their franchise star. Wherever he ends up, expect more drama to be added to the Beard’s saga against the Spurs.