James Harden: Complete Performance Breakdown in the Pac-10 Championship Game

This article serves as a complete scouting report of James Harden, ASU's dynamic small forward. It follows his performance in the Pac-10 Championship game against USC, from warm up to final buzzer.

James Harden is well known nationally as the best small forward in the game. His style of play is reminiscent of a hybrid of Scottie Pippen and Gilbert Arenas. Why do I say that?

Pippen had Harden both could stroke the three and run the point. Whereas Pippen had Michael Jordan for a good portion of his career, James Harden is doing it without the best player of all time. That is why I see some Arenas in him. Now, I know Arenas went to Arizona, but please forgive the comparison.

Anyway, this article will follow Harden throughout the game, from every angle and every minute. He is a rare player who has the ability to get underneath the opposition’s skin without talking too much. All the best players have this ability, from Jordan to LeBron.  Am I high on the Harden Kool-aid right now? Absolutely. The guy is amazing.

With 2 minutes left in the pre game, Harden looks focused. He wears black and yellow Nikes, while the rest of the team wears white or maroon shoes.

Hackett immediately makes his presence felt on Harden, locking him down on the outside, but Pendergraph is able to slam it home for the first points of the game.

Harden is on the bottom right of the 2-3 zone, but rotates out to the top of the key when the USC offense spreads out.

He appears to be idle during the first few minutes on the offensive end, giving his teammates a chance to set the pace. Glasser and Pendergraph have been the main worker thus far.

Harden’s active hands cause a USC turnover, leading to another bucket by Glasser. Essentially, Harden is showing that he can contribute without the offense being run through him.

This might be the game plan for Herb Sendek: if the offense works without Harden, Hackett will have to drop off him and help out more on defense.

Harden finally gets the ball on the offensive end, making a great pass to Pendergraph for the dunk. He has great court vision.

The zone defense doesn’t showcase his defensive abilities, but it allows the team to work together instead of relying on any single player to lock down USC’s top talent. With four players averaging over 12 points a game, we need to spread the defense.

Harden does a pretty good job of rotating defensively, from the baseline between the post and the three-point line.

Glasser is just lighting it up this weekend, hitting a three to take a six point lead.

Harden remains mostly neutralized from a scoring standpoint, but he keeps finding Pendergraph open in the lane for easy buckets. I am more and more convinced at this juncture that we are trying to establish our role players as offensive forces.

Now with the score knotted at 15, Harden takes the reins and dishes to Shipp for an open three, but he’s not the guy we want shooting.

With 11:41 left, Harden still hasn’t scored any points. We are all waiting for him to turn it on, especially considering Daniel Hackett has scored 9 points and is also playing stifling defense.

Harden looks monotone, if you can look a sound. Not seeing the enthusiasm or the vigor we are used to. But it hasn’t hurt us yet. Once he begins to contribute, you can imagine there will be open looks for Abbott and Kuksiks from three.

With Glasser out of the game, Harden has been tasked with playing the point. He has also moved to the top of the key on the right side in the zone.

Harden has a great sense of where Pendergraph is at all times. He just made a great bloop pass for another easy basket. This type of point guard mentality is very refreshing.

Hackett is holding Harden during the dead ball periods. Hackett nearly hit Harden in the face, most likely in an attempt to make James flinch. Fact is, he didn’t. 9 minutes left in the first half and harden still has no points.

Well, Harden is out of the game for a breather. Most likely, Sendek wants to remind him that his scoring is welcome.

Harden is back in with 6:48 to go in the half, still getting covered tightly by Hackett. If a college player can render him pointless, he has to keep contributing by dishing out the dimes.

He is also causing havoc on the defensive end, stealing balls left and right.

If I wasn’t watching Harden so closely in this game, I might be confused as to his affect on the score. Make no mistake, however; He has been a huge part of this Sun Devil team today, even if it doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score (although his assists and steals will).

Hackett and Harden are bumping again in the paint, and the referee went over there to make sure they stopped playing so aggressively. Harden made his case, and the ref agreed to watch for certain types of contact that Harden is unhappy with.

Harden still is unable to get a clean look at the basket, as USC is clearly looking to stop him at all costs. That hasn’t translated into scoreboard results though, much to the chagrin of the USC-heavy crowd and coach Tim Floyd.

Harden doing a lot of point guard play, even with Glasser in the game. Sendek is looking for new ways to get him the ball, with screens from the post.

Harden finds Glasser for an open three that is converted. These great passes are really aiding the attack. I can’t say enough how impressed I am with James Harden so far.

James Harden finally breaks through on the offensive end, hitting a three from the top of the key when Keith Wilkinson was guarding him.

Final play of the half. Will it be Harden’s shot? Hackett called for a touch foul against Harden away from the ball. Harden begins to isolate with 6 seconds left and nails a huge three to break the game open 39-24 at the half.

Harden starts the half strong with another assist to Pendergraph. This formula is going to be highly successful in the NCAA Tournament if it persists.

Harden turns the ball over in the backcourt, and yells at Kuksiks to “come to the ball” when he showed no signs of doing so.

Now only up 41-31 with 18:23, I am reminded of yesterday’s game against Washington. We really need to avoid letting USC get any closer, as that would be a huge mistake. The defensive intensity almost got to Glasser, but he got it out just in time.

Harden just turned the ball over on the offensive end; we need more from him now.

It’s happening again. Harden and the Devils are only up seven while Hackett shoots two free throws. He misses the first, but Harden’s performance in this half has not inspired the team yet.

We are running the offense through Harden this half. He sets the pace at the top of the key, driving and looking for an open man.

We have extended the lead to 11 with 15:53 to go. Harden is out for the time being.

Now with the lead at 5, Harden is back in the game. Unfortunately for us, all the momentum is with the Trojans.

Harden is looking for his shot again, but he is being smothered by the USC defense. He is cold as ice, however, nailing a big three to bring the lead back up to six. I am feeling deja vu with this crowd, this environment, and this capsizing lead.

James is trying very hard to get the shots he wants, but forcing the issue won’t work. In the first half, his passing was the key to the big lead.

Hackett and Harden are slapping at each other again; the refs keep talking to them in an attempt to stop it.

Glasser is looking great, from his drives in the lane to his open threes. Where did this level of play come from? Is Harden helping him channel greatness?

Harden finds Pendergraph AGAIN for a dunk. This connection is developing perfectly.

With 9:33 left, ASU is up 55-51.

Now only up two, the place is really loud. The Sun Devils are trying to run their offense normally, to great success: Pendergraph hits a jumper from the elbow.

Harden’s face is showing strong concentration; he’s in the zone. Hopefully that translates into results. He’s the main man now.

Controlling the pace, Harden finds Pendergraph for a long jumper again. The assists just keep flowing from his hands.

We really need Kuksiks to make his open threes. Without those points, he isn’t a good player to have on the court. But without options, he is going to play the rest of the game.

Harden has slowed down, and Sendek just took him out for a quick rest before the final stretch. With 4:30 left, there isn’t much time for USC. Abbott needs to make his free throws.

With 3:52 remaining, Harden is back in the game and ASU has the ball with a fresh shot clock. He didn’t even touch the ball on that possession, and we failed to score.

Again, Harden doesn’t touch the ball with 2 minutes to go, but Glasser nails a runner in the lane.

Huge moment in the contest with 1:10 left- Harden drives the lane, misses the lay up, but gets fouled on the attempt. Here is where he needs to come up big. He makes the first. 2 possession game. He misses the second leaving the game closer than it needs to be.

USC hits the three to cut it to one. This game is insane. Harden gets called for the charge. How can the refs call that foul at this juncture in the game, with all that has happened? That was a moving violation regardless.

The referees are killing ASU. That was a terrible call against Glasser with 42.6 left.

Tie game. Hackett has one more shot. Now USC has first lead of the game, 64-63 with 42.6 seconds left. Everyone in the building knows James Harden is going to be involved in the next possession.

This is most critical moment in the career of James Harden. How will it go down? Will he become a legend tonight?

Harden’s layup attempt was unsuccessful, and with 16.9 seconds remaining, the crowd smells an automatic bid for the hometown team. There is a lot of adversity to overcome right now, but regardless of the free throws USC is about to shoot, it is a one possession game should ASU get the ball.

Harden had a good game. But his endgame lacked polish, and he failed to lead us in the critical last minute of the game. He did not need to shoot a three when we were only down two. It was a huge mistake that he had no business making.

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