James Harden had just finished one of the least efficient performances of his historic season when he was asked how much the Milwaukee Bucks’ unique defensive scheme had to do with his off night.
“None,” Harden said, scoffing at the suggestion that the Bucks might have created a blueprint for defending the NBA’s most unstoppable offensive weapon.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale
Harden explained that shots simply didn’t go in, refusing to give credit to the NBA’s top-ranked defense for holding him to 9-of-26 shooting from the floor during the Houston Rockets’ 108-94 loss on the road.
The Bucks did an excellent job of executing their game plan, with point guard Eric Bledsoe going to great extremes to force Harden to drive right, straddling his left hip instead of playing in front of him. Bledsoe pressured Harden into traffic with 7-foot rim protector Brook Lopez waiting in the lane, Giannis Antetokounmpo swooping in with his pterodactyl wings as a help defender and hyperathletic Bledsoe chasing in pursuit, blocking a couple of layup attempts from behind.
“One doesn’t work without the other,” Bledsoe said of the luxury of funneling Harden into elite help defenders. “I was forcing him off the 3-point line and trying not to [let Harden] do that step-back. Fortunately, it worked for us.”
Could that work for Rockets opponents in the playoffs? Coaches and scouts around the league have their doubts.
“You can’t guard him. You can’t,” an advance scout for an East team said. “You just hope that he misses shots and then the other guys will not beat you. He’s going to do what he’s going to do. You just hope he misses shots.”
The Rockets contend that that’s what happened in Milwaukee, and some statistics support that theory. It was his fifth-worst game this season in terms of the difference in his shooting percentage and quality of shot, based on Second Spectrum’s Quantified Shot Quantity. And Rockets role players PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon didn’t make the Bucks pay for letting them get good looks, combining to go 1-of-16 from the floor and 1-of-13 from 3-point range.
Nevertheless, the Bucks certainly succeeded in influencing Harden’s shot diet. With Bledsoe breathing into his left ear, Harden got off only a few of his signature step backs among his nine 3-point attempts, which was well below his NBA-record average of 13.2 per game. The Bucks kept their hands high and the whistles quiet, resulting in only five free throws for Harden, less than half of his league-high average. And Harden took eight 2-pointers outside the restricted area, the poison every opponent would pick.nike nfl jerseys cheap china
“You try to defend the 3-point line with him as best you possibly can, try to get him inside the elbow to the dots,” a West head coach said. But Harden is lethal even taking the shots defenses attempt to dictate, becoming drastically more comfortable with his floater this season. According to NBA.com statistics, Harden has hit 51.6 percent of 225 attempted floaters this season, up from 50.5 percent on only 91 tries in 2017-18.