James Harden had perhaps the worst game he has ever played in a Rockets uniform during Game 6 on Thursday.
The Houston Rockets crashed rockily into their offseason in a brutal 114-75 defeat, and their do-everything superstar managed to do little to stop their collapse.
Harden finished the game with 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting, managing only seven assists to six turnovers. He didn't attempt a field goal until halfway through the second quarter. He only had two shot attempts at halftime, and his passiveness stood out strangely in a crucial game.
Yet it doesn't invalidate his season, and it certainly doesn't weaken his MVP case.
Harden will be accused of that constantly in the aftermath of Game 6, a game where he was objectively terrible.
It doesn't help that he cost the Rockets Game 5, wearing down in the overtime period and failing to score a point without Kawhi Leonard even in the game.
The past 53 minutes that Harden has played have been horrid, and recency bias is strong. But what about the other 3,264?
In a move from shooting to point guard, Harden lit up opponents with sparkling efficiency and led the league in assists in a turbocharged Mike D'Antoni offense.
Second in the league in scoring, Harden averaged fewer than 19 field goal attempts, scoring more than 1.5 points per shot.
His turnovers broke a league record, and that's obviously not ideal, but it came within a system created to allow just that.
His constant pushing and risk taking allowed for errors, with the belief being that it would benefit Houston more times than not. (It did.)
It's a laugh to say that any guard could have done this with D'Antoni at the reigns.
Any guard could have been a facsimile, sure, but hardly anyone could have reached these magnitudes.
Harden didn't throw passes that seemingly broke physics, but he routinely threw ones that broke conventionality.
A pass to a corner shooter is so ordinary, and yet his still caught defenses by surprise.
He threatened teams around the rim and used that to find open shooters, and his ability to create shots — even from 26 feet out — routinely bailed the Rockets out of bad spots.
All of that is hard to remember with the repellant Game 6 version of Harden so fresh on our minds, but it's true.
Amusingly, Harden's struggles in his nightmare game seemingly came from him trying to hard to do the right thing.
San Antonio smartly decided that they weren't going to guard Clint Capela, leaving him open constantly from five feet and betting their defenders could psych him out enough to render those possessions ineffective for Houston.
Capela shot 3-of-11 for 15 points, many of his points coming off Harden passes.
At other times, Harden saw the gaps closing on him and flung the ball out to the perimeter instead, passes that often got tipped or in a couple cases picked off.
The Spurs baited him with an open player around the rim, and he couldn't help himself.
It wasn't working, and those aren't excuses. Instead, Harden needed to be taking those drives directly to the rim and powering into defenders, drawing fouls or finishing despite contact.
Houston couldn't score, and instead of trying a last ditch takeover and attempting to overwhelm San Antonio's tactically sound defense with his sheer talent, he deferred.
It's a flaw he has,where he can't help himself from making the smart play even if it isn't the right one, even if it's a noble one.
We're still riding high off the Kobe era of superstars, and Harden is the one who passes too much. Who's to say one is worse than the other?
Still, it's not like Harden was some train wreck once the regular season calendar was torn off the wall and a playoff one replaced it.
In 10 postseason games, before this total dud, Harden had a point more than the regular season, shot 1.5 percent less, assisted about three times fewer but also decreased his turnovers.
The Rockets were fine, and so was Harden,He had a couple 40-point games.
Houston's two postseason opponents geared up around him to reduce his impact, and he still had about the same one we saw during his 81 regular season games played.
If you had Harden as your MVP, or as your MVP runner up, neither of those things should change. Why would they?
Harden had his worst game of the season in the postseason, losing in six games to a team with a better record and coach in the Western Conference semifinals.
It's a regular season award, and a game doesn't make a season. You all know this, and using it just to support a certain counter MVP narrative is so reactionary.
(This feels like a timely moment to remind everyone that Russell Westbrook, another perfectly acceptable and brilliant MVP candidate, lost to Harden's Rockets in five games.)
We should flip this narrative in the opposite way, too: Game 6 doesn't go away because Harden was really, exceptionally good during the regular season.
It can't happen again. Harden shouldn't go into the summer with no cares because he did a good job leading Houston to the league's third-best record.
This embarrassment ought to motivate him. Certainly, he still has improvement left to be done, like his struggles when games get tight late.
All those things are perfectly valid things for Harden himself to worry about. But Game 6 isn't a referendum on him, or the Rockets, or, c'mon damnit, their modern style.
It's a bad game at a worse time that unfortunately mars the end of one of the most unstoppable seasons we've ever seen. That's all. You can leave it at that.