MIAMI, Fla. — Self-doubt rarely creeps into the psyche of Thunder reserve guard James Harden. Not even in the toughest of times, such as the current NBA Finals.
Through four games against the Miami Heat, Harden is shooting 35.1 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from 3-point range, 72.2 percent from the free-throw line and averaging 10.8 points — all considerably lower than his regular-season numbers.
In a crucial 104-98 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday, Harden went 2 for 10 from the floor, 1 for 5 from 3-point range and finished with eight points.
Perhaps there was more to his struggles than people realized. Harden left Wednesday's practice with his left wrist and hand heavily taped. Team officials said he bruised the hand in Game 4, but will play in Game 5 on Thursday at 8 p.m. at American Airlines Arena.
A bruised hand might explain Harden's shooting woes in Game 4, but it doesn't explain everything.
The 22-year-old, left-handed gunslinger normally is fearless, hoisting shots from any locale, but he seemed hesitant in the fourth quarter on Tuesday in many ways – shooting, passing, dribbling, creating, screening, everything.
With the Thunder trailing 3-1 and one game away from elimination, several of Harden's teammates have made a point of endorsing their slumping sixth man, both publicly and privately.
OKC reserve guard Daequan Cook knows Harden's mechanics as well as anyone. Shooters speak the same language, share the same insight and eyesight, and Cook said he has no concerns with Harden's stroke.
“There's nothing wrong with his shot,” Cook said. “I told him, ‘There's no reason for you to not have confidence every time you shoot the ball. You've been doing it all season for us. You look for it. You miss a shot? Oh, well. We know what you're capable of doing so don't allow that to affect your play.”
Veteran forward Nick Collison said such endorsements are no bunk.
“We all have faith in James,” Collison said. “We're always supportive of our guys. We really do believe it. It's not just to play mind games with him to have a better game. We really do believe in him. We know without him playing well, we all wouldn't be here.”
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