There’s a bunch of old guys walking around the NBA playoffs, and it’s starting to get a little creepy.
The ongoing second round is lined up with teams looking like they’re fried. The Los Angeles Lakers, led by 38-year-old LeBron James, played like donkeys for most of the regular season before making some desperate, last-minute roster changes and making their way into the playoffs in seventh place. After beating the disgrace of the qualifying tournament, they faced off against a young, exciting Memphis Grizzlies team and declared victory when everyone in the Grizz was losing their minds at the same time.
The Lakers are currently up against the Golden State Warriors: the reigning champions and the undisputed fear of the league, despite being slow and uninspiring all year and unable to win away from the comfort of their warm beds and rocking chairs. Even so, they finally knocked out the Sacramento Kings, young, exciting, completely new to this playoff event, unable to break their brother’s iron psyche in the first round. And then there’s the Miami Heat, until Jimmy Butler, the NBA’s grumpy prince of personal grievances, made his way into the playoffs, throwing “Michael Jordan,” from “Short Paul George,” and the league’s top player into an early summer break and on the LinkedIn profiles of job seekers everywhere. absolutely crushed the top-ranked Milwaukee Bucks Phoenix Suns are on the ropes against the Denver Nuggets, have some solid young players, but they’re also dealing with Kevin Durant’s expanding bald spot and are praying for Chris Paul’s return: still irritating and less than 1.8 meters tall in 39 years on Earth.
The old refuses to die and the new refuses to be born. The last generation turnover was hard and fast; One by one, the titans were crushed by the flaming fist of LeBron’s mid-career glorification and the Golden State’s reality-warping antics. But even after Giannis Antetokounmpo solidified his position as the best player in the league by winning a full NBA championship, former players swung around and continued to eat in the playoffs, even though they had sucked the moon out of the sky in regular games. season. If you crave the warm, humid embrace of nostalgia, you’ll think this is great. But if you get bored easily like me, it got annoying. When will the NEW thing happen?! I’m sick of your OLD thing, man!
However, there is an older player who dominated the playoffs and managed to warm my cold heart. Bearded pesky James Harden of the 2010s is not the foul throwing machine he once was with the Houston Rockets. But he is is The catalyst for the Philadelphia 76ers’ 3-2 series wins in their second-round match against the Boston Celtics, shimmering with mystical energy and into their sixth game at home tonight.
Going into this series, we tended to declare the Sixers hopeless. Their last team had a lot of trouble against their second-round rivals, the Celtics. Their top player, league MVP and ubiquitous two-way monster, Joel Embiid, is dealing with a sprained knee that kept him on the sidelines in games one and two and visibly hollowed out the remaining games.
But sensing that the clock was ticking and that this was probably his last clean shot at the big one, Harden emerged from the haze of sleep towards the end of his career and did it for Embiid. He lost an astounding 45 points in Game One of the Sixers; A bearded, cunning pirate confronts a squad of sharp, agile navy boys, robs them blindly, stuffs money in a sack, shoots, steps back, changes speed, “B-Ball” leaps from Paul Reed’s screens and sprints In the rim, possession of the ball, using method and strength instead of speed, driving anyone who guards it into a mild frenzy.
Watch him go solo against Marcus Smart, a good and cunning defender. Starting in the middle of the court, he tries to use a screen to clear the defender, but Smart, who is extremely difficult to screen if nothing else, is unaffected and stays on him. Harden dribbles to the three-point line and steps back. Knowing very well that this dominance is out of his control, Smart now uses an exaggerated stumbling block and Harden’s arm accidentally touches his torso. His scam doesn’t work, and Harden backs out. Smart watches the ball go in, bends down, and returns sadly, fully aware that his three-card mount scam can’t help him against the king of bullshit.
I wondered why I felt so much love for Harden as he scorched the Celtics again in game four, leading the Sixers to victory when the entire universe seemed poised to end the streak. After all, other old men playing their little old head games have me climbing the wall, and I have no warm nostalgia for Harden’s years in Houston.
I think, deep down, people know that the 33-year-old man never really got the respect his resume commanded. Harden is a 10-time All-Star, a six-time All-NBA First-Team Player, and the league’s MVP in 2018. He lives in nightmares of those who try to cut him on the circle or on the three-point line.
But at a time when the Golden State Warriors were unstoppable, he was doomed to make his trade in the Western Conference: the wasteland that brought only death and disappointment to anyone who dared to run for glory in the playoffs. Harden’s teams lost to the Warriors in the playoffs three times in four years, leaving the poor man branded as “Overwhelming” at a time when the entire league was dusted off by an excellent basketball-playing squad. An incredible skill unlucky enough to match an atomic bomb.
But Harden never really garnered the sympathy of the masses during this time. He may have been underdog on paper, but he was also a Game Man. And it’s hard to love Gamesman.
Although I personally find it funny and good to fool the referees, his tendency to flop is well known to everyone so I never used it against him. But driven by the outdated notions of “honour” and “fair play,” some people have been led to distraction with such things. Or perhaps with his reckless approach to defense. Or an active social life. Or a tendency to get in shape. None of these particular things really bothered me. I think every NBA player should be a cheater who lights both ends of the candle and comes to camp 15 pounds overweight.
But even I have to admit that the aesthetics of the Houston Rockets teams of the 2010s… were a bit too much. Here, Harden had a setback, but he also shot an extraordinary amount of foul shots in hundreds of other small ways: leaning on the defender while driving towards the rim, using a pump spoof to encourage the defender to reach his own goal. Jump shot. In a vacuum this is a product of Harden’s mini-spatial genius; There has never been another NBA player who has mastered his micro-movements at this level, always playing two games at the same time. There is basketball, a game where you dribble, pass and throw the ball into the hoop, but there is also the meta game “basketball”, where you include the referees in the equation, squeezing your body to the side and scraping the smallest advantage you can. forward or backward inches.
But watching it… well, that can get a little boring. He shot TONS of foul shots—never the juiciest part of the game—and the feeling that he was catching the ball and pushing it into the defense’s teeth, repeatedly seeking touch, was often mind-numbing. With star players optimizing every position to get catapult three-pointers and foul shots, these Rockets teams were designated as the “everything wrong with basketball” team of that generation. In this, Harden didn’t get the hosannas he normally deserves as a man of MVP caliber.
But time passes, the world changes, and yesterday’s troublemaker can become today’s hero. The Philadelphia 76ers play weakly against the Boston Celtics, the new, nascent, “everything wrong with basketball today” team in this series: a group of hideous nothings that come together to play a style best described as “2017.” Warriors playing from the depths of a never-ending K-hole.” Warriors’ Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the murderous jumping assassins that haunt your dreams, have been replaced by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Celtics, who play the default basketball and give up anything flashy or creative to share. ball and optimizing their output for proper offensive victory. Draymond Green, the nasty, long-limbed second-round player who looks like he’ll be playing for three seconds in the future, is played by Marcus Smart, an extravagant defender who flops like 2016 James Harden.
Against the Warriors, Harden was a boring player and shooter playing the dystopian version of the Warriors’ high-octane efficiency. But against the Celtics – that team’s previous nightmare version – Harden brings his thunder only to basketball players. It looks like a ball and a circle; A heroic figure of Kenny Powers tells us he’s playing real basketball, not trying to be the best at target practice. He is the man of the moment.