OAKLAND, Calif. -- When the buzzer sounded and the crowd, most wearing yellow shirts, started to yell like they’ve never seen a basketball game before, James Harden was on his hands and knees.
Harden’s head was down like he was trying to hide it in some sand. When the Houston Rockets star got up, he slowly walked off the Oracle Arena floor and into a dark tunnel -- which is where his team's season is right now.
Harden knocked down a black curtain on the way to the locker room. When Harden arrived, he wanted to watch the film of what just happened to him.
It was painful.
The Golden State Warriors edged the Rockets 99-98 on Thursday night in a wonderful basketball game. The Rockets are down 2-0 in this series, and the numbers say when a team goes down like that they lose the series 94 percent of the time. Only 16 teams have rallied to overcome a 2-0 deficit.
Harden isn’t one to show much emotion. He barks at the referees from time to time, he cheers his teammates, but mostly he’s a quiet assassin who doesn’t let anything bother him.
It seemed like this bothered him.
“It hurts,” he said. “But they did what they had to do. They won two games at home. We’re going back home to get two games.”
Earlier in the day, Harden was named to the All-NBA first team, which seemed like a no-brainer considering the season he’s had.
In Game 2, Harden produced a fantastic effort. He scored a game-high 38 points on 13-of-21 shooting, battling the reigning MVP Stephen Curry shot-for-shot and blow-for-blow like two old heavyweight fighters from the 1970s.
Harden added 10 rebounds and nine assists. Curry scored 33 points and had six assists. The Rockets neutralized Curry late in the game with double-teams, forcing others to make plays which led to the frantic finish.
With the Rockets down one in the closing seconds, Curry was doubled and a pass went to the corner. Harrison Barnes drove the lane and changed his shot because Dwight Howard moved over to protect the rim. Barnes missed a reverse layup and Harden had the ball in his hands.
Coach Kevin McHale let things play out, because that’s what you do when your best player has the ball with seven seconds to play in the game.
Harden took his time and made a step back to give himself some space. Should he have taken the shot?
Did he think it was the right time for it?
Harden saw Howard trailing the play, so he passed him to ball to clear some more space. After he got the ball back, two defenders, Klay Thompson and Curry, scurried over, Harden lost the ball and the clock ran out.
“Got the ball off the glass and I’m thinking, just try to get an easy one,” he said. “They did a good job of having two guys on me, so I couldn’t attack and when I looked up, I saw a red jersey and it was Dwight so I tried to throw it back to him. At that time, I’m thinking five seconds on the clock, so I tried to get the ball back, and it was still two guys right there and I watched the film. It’s just a tough, tough play.”
During his chat with reporters, he slapped the table a few times as if he couldn’t believe what just happened.
In the locker room, his teammates tried to keep his spirits up.
“Kicking chairs, it’s frustrating,” Harden said. “Frustrating to give the game away like that for myself, but my teammates and coaches were behind me, just saying that we’re going home to secure home now. Go out there in Game 3. Ten out of 10 times we’ll take that play. It gave me confidence, but it’s still frustrating when I know I could have at least got a shot up.”
The season isn’t over and the Rockets haven’t lost three consecutive games all season. This is the same team that rallied from a 3-1 deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers in the conference semifinals.
Harden knows his team can bounce back. It’s just painful right now.
“I just said get over it, nine times out of 10, ball in your hands, eight seconds or less we’re going to win the game,” guard Jason Terry said. “Be prepared for that opportunity to come again. I won’t be surprised if it happens again in this series.”
It might. It’s just that everything hurts so bad right now.