OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — After carrying Houston to the Western Conference finals, James Harden couldn’t even hold onto the ball when the Rockets needed him most.
Harden set a playoff record with 13 turnovers and the Rockets were unable to stave off playoff elimination for a fifth time this postseason, losing 104-90 to the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
“I put so much pressure on myself to just be really good every single night, and so some cases you’re not going to do that,” Harden said. “You’re not going to be good. Tonight that was the case. It’s tough to go out like this.”.
Harden helped lead Houston to a Southwest Division title, fueled the comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in the second round against the Los Angeles Clippers and carried his team to a Game 4 win to extend the conference finals.
But with the season on the line once again, Harden struggled against the tough Warriors defense.
“James didn’t play well, but as I’ve said all year long, we don’t win the division, we don’t win 56 games, we don’t have home court, we don’t beat the Clippers in Game 7 if it wasn’t for James,” coach Kevin McHale said. “He had a tough go tonight. There’s nothing else you can really say about it, man. Sometimes you go out there and you’re trying your best and things just don’t work out.”.
Harden finished with just 14 points on 2-for-11 shooting and didn’t make a single shot from the field for the final 29:48 of the game. His rough night could be encapsulated in the closing minutes, when he shot an airball from 3-point range and then dribbled the ball off his foot for his 13th turnover.
That’s how the whole night went for Harden, whose turnovers fueled the Warriors’ transition game and gave them easy baskets on a night both teams struggled to score.
As much as he was frustrated by his play in the final game, Harden also was ruing his inability to get a shot off in the closing seconds of a one-point loss at Golden State in Game 2.
“Just valuing possessions in the postseason. It’s tough. Like I said, the first two games you take away some of those possessions that we gave away, and it’s a different series,” he said. “Tonight was another case for myself. Thirteen turnovers is unacceptable.”.
Stephen Curry had 26 points and eight rebounds, Harrison Barnes added 24 points and the Warriors advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years.
All five Rockets starters scored at least 10 points, with Dwight Howard leading the way with 18 points and 16 rebounds. But Harden had a forgettable finale to a special season that included him finishing second in MVP voting to Curry.
“James has been carrying us all year long,” guard Jason Terry said. “If you come this far, you need some help. We tried to help as much as we could tonight. It just wasn’t his night.”.
The Warriors started the fourth on a 13-4 run and held off Houston’s last-ditch efforts on free throws.
Barnes highlighted the decisive spurt with a dunk that gave Golden State an 87-72 lead with 7:10 remaining. He flexed his muscles to the sellout crowd of 19,596, which spent the final quarter on its feet in anticipation of a celebration a generation in the works.
Now the Rockets head into the offseason proud of their ability to overcome season-ending injuries to starting point guard Patrick Beverley and big man Donatas Matiejunas, as well as long absences by Howard in the regular season. But they still fell short at the end.
“It wasn’t our time,” Howard said. “We gave everything we got. We fought to the end.”.
Rockets: Howard and Andrew Bogut were called for double technical fouls in the second quarter. It was Howard’s seventh technical foul of the postseason, meaning he would’ve been suspended if there was a Game 6. … The Rockets last won at Oracle Arena on Dec. 13, 2013.
Warriors: Golden State is 46-3 at home this season, including 7-1 in the playoffs. … The Warriors are 16-2 in close-out games at home, the best winning percentage of any team.
While the penalty for Howard’s seventh technical foul won’t carry over to next season, he was spared a possible suspension for the season opener next fall when he extended his arm into Andre Iguodala’s shoulder on a hard foul while setting a screen. After a replay review, the officials determined Howard did not commit a flagrant foul. That would have been his fourth flagrant foul point of the playoffs, which would have led to a suspension next season.