THE GODFATHER SPEAKS

John Granato: James Harden purgatory update

What do we think of James Harden now? Tim Warner/Getty Images

I’m really torn on what I think about James Harden after these playoffs. I thought this postseason would sway me one way or the other. I’d been saying for years that we will always be in James Harden purgatory - somewhere up there but never in heaven. About midseason I admitted that I was wrong, that James could take us to the promised land. Now I’m not so sure. I’m in limbo which is what purgatory is I guess. So I’m right back where I started. I think.

I’m so confused.

But that’s what James does. He confuses and confounds you then promptly amazes and astounds you. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to pick up my phone and tweet about one of his errant passes or lazy defensive efforts or when he just let an inbounds pass bounce right to a Warrior who picked it up and scored easily.

But I stopped myself. And sure enough right after one of his boneheaded plays he’d steal a pass or hit Capella with a sweet alley oop or knock down a big 3 and a tweet that would have made perfect sense would have looked stupid just a couple minutes later.

So where are we on James Harden’s legacy?

I have no idea.

If only Chris Paul hadn’t gotten hurt. With CP3 we know they had enough fire power to win it all. Whether or not they would have is the great unknown. I think they would have. You may not think so. Okay. You’re not wrong either. No one knows for sure.

I do know that he was the yin to James’ yang. He was hot when James was cold. In those crunch times we’ve seen James fold in, CP3 took the reins and guided them to victory - Game 5 against the Jazz when he poured in 41 or Game 4 in Oakland when he brought them back from 12 down in the 4th to even the series at two games apiece.

And that was fine by me. If Chris Paul was the alpha dog and led them to the title, all we’d remember is that they won. James could bathe in the glory of a championship and the monkey would be off his back. They couldn’t have won it without him regardless of his postseason play. It would be idiotic to criticize him any longer because he won. Period.

But that’s not the case. Now all we have is another playoff failure and James has to take his share of the blame for it. In Game 7 he scored 32 but on 29 shots. He was just 2 of 13 from 3 point range and worse yet he didn’t have any answers or leadership in another second half swan dive.

Elimination James is alive and well. It’s not nearly as egregious as last year’s Game 6 against the Spurs or as haphazard as his 11 turnover game in ‘15 but it was still an elimination failure. So the question still remains. Can the Rockets win a title with James Harden? Other questions have to be answered first.

Is an oft-injured Chris Paul a max deal guy and if so for how long?

Do you match whatever for Capella?

Do you upgrade the Trevor Ariza position?

Will anyone take Ryan Anderson’s contract? Please.

Is Gerald Green worth bringing back?

Are you really in the LeBron sweepstakes?

They’re all legitimate issues Daryl Morey has to face this offseason. I think he did a helluva job putting this team together and getting them to the precipice of greatness. All the pieces fit perfectly. If that one spoke didn’t break they could have won the race.

The reality is that that spoke breaks quite often and you have to prepare accordingly. You never want to predict that someone will get injured but history shows that it’s more likely than not for CP3. We also know that James can’t win it alone so there’s got to be more.

If it isn’t LeBron it’s going to have to be someone else.

Paul George? Not likely.

Boogie Cousins? No thanks.

Carmelo Anthony? I’d rather have Boogie.

Most of the other decent possible additions are restricted free agents and they cost too much. So does JJ Reddick.

Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Dirk are too old. Rajon Rondo is a nut job. Marco Belinelli might be a piece that would fit but he’s just a piece.

Good luck Daryl. Should be fun. But he pulled it off last offseason so you never know.

I do know this. I feel better about James right now than I did last year at this time. That’s not a high hurdle though. At this time last year we were all reeling from the Game 6 nightmare.

At least in Game 7 against the Warriors he tried. He spun his wheels but he did try.

He deferred to CP3 against the Jazz and Warriors but I’m OK with that. He did what was best for the team.

All his postseason numbers were worse than his regular season numbers. Took more shots and made fewer. Took more 3’s and made fewer. Scored less per game overall.

So you would think that nothing’s changed and if that’s your attitude then so be it. But I saw something different this year. I’m kind of with Mike D’Antoni on this one. Let’s not discount the 65 wins. Let’s not forget the WCF appearance. Let’s appreciate what will be an MVP season from James.

It all just looked and felt different and if that’s because James had CP3 there leading him towards the water that’s fine. He drank it. And the team was better for it.

I don’t care if James isn’t the alpha in the room. That’s not his thing. Scoring is and he does that better than everyone in the league and because of it they were one half away from the championship round.

We may still be in James Harden purgatory but I know this: the pearly gates ain’t far away.  



 

 






 

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Zack Greinke earned his 10th win of the season in Sunday's finale agains the Rangers. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With the first two wins of the series under their belt, the Astros entered Sunday looking to take care of business before heading on the road. Despite the Rangers taking the first lead of the day, the Astros responded on offense and defense to erase the deficit to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 3, Rangers 1

Astros' Record: 61-39, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (10-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dennis Santana (0-1)

Greinke, with some help, notches a quality start

Zack Greinke was doing well in the early goings of Sunday's finale. Despite allowing back-to-back singles to start the game, he stranded both runners to finish the top of the first. He followed that by erasing two more runners in the second, starting a stretch of eight straight batters which he would retire to make it through one out in the top of the fifth without allowing a run.

Texas finally added a blemish to his day at that point, getting a solo homer to grab their first lead in weeks. Greinke rebounded from it, sitting down the next two batters to finish the frame, then posted a 1-2-3 sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh, but would end his day with a struggle, loading the bases with no outs on a single, hit batter, and walk. That prompted Dusty Baker to bring in Cristian Javier, who saved Greinke's stat line by getting a strikeout and double play to keep the Rangers from scoring. Greinke's line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 86 P.

Houston grabs the lead

Houston's starter would leave in line for the win, thanks to the work of Cristian Javier, but also some timely offense in the two innings prior. With not much going for them in the first four innings, the Astros tried to take advantage of Chas McCormick being on base in the bottom of the fifth, sending him for a potential hit and run with Abraham Toro swinging.

That turned into two runs, with McCormick able to slow his run as Toro would launch a two-run go-ahead homer to erase the Rangers lead quickly. They extended the lead to two runs in the next inning, with Yordan Alvarez working a walk and then later scoring on an RBI single by Kyle Tucker, making it 3-1.

Astros finish the sweep

After cleaning up the inherited mess in the top of the seventh, Javier remained on the mound in the top of the eighth and made it through a 1-2-3 inning to give him six outs against five batters. With it still a two-run game in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly entered for the save opportunity. He notched it, sitting down the Rangers 1-2-3 to finish the sweep, handing Texas their twelfth straight loss.

Up Next: The Astros will head out west for an eight-game road trip starting with a three-game set with the Mariners kicking off at 9:10 PM Central on Monday. In the opener, Luis Garcia (7-5, 2.86 ERA) for Houston is slated to go opposite Darren McCaughan (0-0, 1.80 ERA), who will make his second career appearance and first start for Seattle.

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