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.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks stresses Harden's lack of production has not been due to a lack of effort, evident by Harden hauling down a career-high 10 rebounds in Game 4.
“He has to be aggressive because you're not going to be able to score by being passive,” Brooks said. “He's getting shots. He's getting opportunities to handle the ball, he just has to keep it going. He hasn't shot the ball well, but we expect him to come out better and shoot the ball better.”
Asked if he still has confidence in his shot, Harden chuckled.
“Oh, yeah,” Harden said. “I've got a lot of confidence in my shot, not just from talking but from putting the work in every single day.”
Harden acknowledges he's been off-target in the Finals, but not way off-target. Several shots have rattled in-and-out, which tells Harden he's not far from success.
“I'm that far off from making a shot,” said Harden, holding his left thumb and forefinger a half-inch apart, “and we're that far off from winning – both of those things. A couple more shots (go in) and we win basketball games – three in a row. We've got to have that same confidence. We don't have any doubt in our minds that we can win the game.”
Win Game 5 and OKC has done what Miami did in Game 2 when it won a road game. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday at 7 p.m. and Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Win Thursday, and the Thunder is back on track.
“Before this series, we talked about just coming in and winning one game in Miami, and we still have one more crack at it,” Harden said. “If we get it back the Oklahoma City, then we have a better chance (to win the series).”