When Shooters Need To Shoot
MILWAUKEE — James Harden nodded in agreement, as if he understood each time his teammates and coaches yelled at him from the bench. He tapped his chest and mouthed to them, ‘My bad.’
Then, the Thunder’s second-year shooting guard would make the same exact mistake. And the cycle would repeat itself again and again Saturday night.
How Harden continued to abandon his assignment was amazing. His instructions were simple.
Shoot the ball.
For the first time this season, Harden reminded us in the Thunder’s 82-81 win over Milwaukee what he can do whenever he just points, aims and fires. He scored a team- and season-high 23 points on 6-for-13 shooting. All six of his field goals were from beyond the 3-point arc. And he needed only eight attempts from downtown to collect his tally.
Now imagine the damage Harden could have done had he decided against passing up so many opportunities.
Harden was hot against the Bucks. He made three of three 3-pointers in the first quarter alone, needing just 9 minutes, 19 seconds to set his season-high for 3-point makes. But too many times Harden refused to play ball hog and ride his hot hand. Not only was it inexplicable, but it hurt his team.
Harden turned down at least three quality looks from the perimeter against the Bucks, each moment of reluctance manifesting itself the same way. Inevitably, the Thunder’s better ball movement made its way into the hands of a wide open Harden. But rather than take what the defense was giving, Harden made things more complicated. He put the ball on the floor or looked to make the extra pass, which ended up being just that, extra.
And each instance was met on the bench with slumped shoulders and hanging heads.
“He knows it drives me crazy,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I’ve never had the luxury of a coach wanting me not to hesitate on my shot. So I don’t know how that works. All I know is when he’s aggressive and quick with his decisions, he plays better. And when he’s hesitant, you don’t know what to expect.”
Harden has been hesitant throughout much of this season. And, like Brooks said, it’s made it nearly impossible to know what to expect from Harden from game to game.
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