James Harden Game 3 Winner Was More Than The Push

James Harden Game 3 Winner Was More Than The Push

James Harden put the Rockets on board against the Golden State Warriors with a game winner that is now the topic of controversy.

Shove and Shot

After Ian Clark nearly went famous for giving the Warriors a 96-95 lead on a lay-up with 10.6 seconds left in Game 3 of their first round series, the Rockets did what they were supposed to do: give the ball to their best scorer.

Like every great scorer, Harden had the ball in his hands, slowly consumed the time an then hit the game-winner as he’s done many times in the past. But this one wasn’t a simple game winner. This was a playoff game that cut the Golden State Warriors lead to just 2-1 instead of the Rockets falling down deep at 0-3. And yes, there was a shove by Harden on his defender before he made that game winning shot.


According to the NBA’s “Last Two Minutes” report released on Friday afternoon, that game winning basket should have been nullified because Harden committed an offensive foul on the way there.

In the report, the play is marked as “INC” or incorrect no call and was labeled as:

“Harden initiates contact with Iguodala to create space and dislodges him from his legal guarding position.”

In short, Harden pushed off and got himself the needed real estate to make the shot. Yes, no question about it. There was a push and it was more than enough to make Andre Iguodala fall back. But didn’t Harden still have to make a shot to win it? He did and if you argue that he was wide open because of the push, that doesn’t guarantee that he was going to make the shot. The Rockets won because Harden made the shot more than he pushed off to get the shot.

A Game Winner

James Harden was 3-11 from the field in that game when guarded by Andre Iguodala so if Iguodala wasn’t dislodged from his defensive position, there could have been a big probability that Harden would miss. Fair enough there. But Harden was also 6-8 from the field that night on shots from 10 feet or nearer. He could have easily made that shot over Iguodala anyway.

In Harden’s playoff career, he was 0-10 on potential go-ahead baskets with two or less minutes left in a playoff game. Moreso, Harden was a career 0-4 in go-ahead FG attempts during the final 10 seconds of a game. He’s hit game winner before, but not coming from behind. So again, was that because of the push? No, I believe that was because of Harden stepping up big time in a big moment. Don’t get me wrong. I am not questioning the wisdom of the NBA’s officials. But with how that game was officiated, they had to let that play go.

Basketball or MMA?

That’s Houston GM Dary Morey for you, referencing a first half play while referencing an armbar from an MMA site. Maybe Morey should have just refer to Bogut’s move as “The Olynyk”, the move that sidelined Kevin Love in the 2015 playoffs and probably cost Cleveland its first ever title. But that wasn’t the only play Morey complained about. Here was another “MMA” play he referred to:

There isn’t a rule in MMA that says that a takedown is worth 2 points. But in an MMA round, a takedown is just important as the strikes landed. But yes, Morey was correct. That was a Draymond throw down right there an there was no call. If fouls were called and free throws made by Houston as a result of those MMA plays by the Warriors, then maybe there would be no fuss about an end-game push by James Harden. You think so?

Underdog Fights Back

The Rockets entered the game as a +6 home underdog in betting books. As stated, the Warriors are 5-1 straight up and against the spread in their last six games on the road against the Rockets. Betting aside, the Warriors had won 14 of the last 15 games against the Rockets. Yet they lost. And was that one basket in the end the big difference? No, Stephen Curry’s absence was. Look, we don’t have to enumerate Steph’s stats and even if the Warriors won Game 2 without him, they missed him in Game 3. The Warriors averaged 109.5 points in the first two games of the series. They only scored 96 in Game 3. The Dubs went 6-25 ( 24%) from three ball and 34-79 (43.0%) from two point range, all below their regular season averages. Those stats weren’t caused by Harden’s push, weren’t they?

It All Adds Up

Doesn’t always come down to the last play but the plays that lead up to it. The Dubs went down by 17, stormed back and lost. That was the story of Game 3. And the series?

Well the Warriors are still likely to run away with the series, regardless of whether Steph’s going to return or going to be 100%. ESPN’s basketball index say that Golden State is going to win the series 97%, with a 57% chance that they will close it  out in Game 5.  Basketball Reference says its 97.2% and the Dubs still have the highest probability to win the NBA title and repeat at 42.9%. But again, winning playoff games and NBA title is more than just stats and numbers. It’s also more than a push in the end-game that led to a game winner.

And yes, didn’t the great Michael Jordan push off in his last shot with the Bulls? That wasn’t just a game winner, it was a Game 6 title clinching basket:

I love Michael Jordan to death but that too was a push. So why is there a big fuss about James Harden’s push. I know that it’s mostly because of the “Last Two Minutes” review which wasn’t there in ’98. But let’s give that one game to Harden and the Rockets. They earned it.


Shane Acedera

Shane Acedera

I've always believed that it's never too late to chase your dreams. So here I am chasing mine- writing sports articles. It's pure passion, love for the sports and a unique way of expressing my thoughts.
Shane Acedera