Did James Harden not resting during season come back to bite him in playoffs?

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This was James Harden speaking back in late March, when he was making a push for MVP and saying playing every day mattered in that chase:

“For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there… For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

And if Mike D’Antoni approached him about sitting out a game for rest.

“Mike knows not to come at me with that.”

This was James Harden Thursday night in a Game 6, win-or-go-home playoff game: 2-of-11 from the floor for 10 points, almost as many turnovers as assists (7 to 6), and he looked like the slowest guy on the court — because he was the slowest guy on the court.

Harden looked exhausted. Out of gas. Like he did at the end of Game 5 before.

When you look back at the push for Harden to be the MVP, is it a coincidence he didn’t get rested during the season and it cost him late?

Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni — who in the past has said he was not a fan of resting players during the regular season — said Friday he’d have to reconsider his position. Via Tim MacMahon at ESPN.

D’Antoni, describing himself as “shell-shocked” the day after Houston’s season ended with a 39-point home loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6, acknowledged after Friday’s exit interviews that fatigue could have factored into Harden’s poor finish.

“All great players think they can do everything,” D’Antoni said. “Maybe he does need to take a game off here and there. ‘Hey, you’re nicked up a little bit, don’t play, maybe.’ Something to talk about, but that’s also his greatness, too. So it’s hard. It’s very delicate.

Gregg Popovich, the coach who bested D’Antoni in the last round (again), has been at the forefront of resting players during the season to have them at their peak for the playoffs. The brilliant Tom Haberstroh at ESPN broke down the numbers in a piece saying Harden needs to get more rest.

Before winning the 2014 Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard ranked 138th in minutes played during the regular season. Andre Iguodala spent the regular season coming off the bench before nabbing the 2015 Finals MVP. Before his brilliant 2016 Finals manifesto, LeBron James enjoyed 19 extra days off in the playoffs as a result of sweeping early-round opponents, while the Warriors labored through injuries and a grueling seven-game marathon against the OKC Thunder. Let’s also not forget the Warriors decided to chase 73 wins that season instead of resting down the stretch…

The Rockets could point to a Nene injury as an excuse (against the Spurs this year), but that strains credibility when you consider the Spurs played without starters Tony Parker and Leonard in Game 6. The Spurs’ reserves stepped up to the challenge because Popovich asked them to step up eight times before in the regular season when he sat Leonard….

Russell Westbrook and Harden’s MVP cases were often buttressed by their visceral opposition to DNP-Rests and yet both flamed out in the postseason in spectacular fashion. Westbrook shot 38.8 percent on 30.4 field goal attempts while turning the ball over six times per game in his first-round exit. Harden missed 45 3-pointers in six games against a Spurs team that collectively ran five more miles on the floor than the Rockets did in the series, according to player-tracking data. With little burst left, Westbrook and Harden were reduced to chucking from deep. The pair shot 27.3 percent on 3s on a combined 20.6 attempts per game in the postseason, whereas those figures were 34.5 percent and 16.4, respectively, in the regular season.

The player tracking data that comes from wearables that a lot of teams use in practice show the same things. Basically, all the data shows that rested players perform better and are less likely to get injured. There is no doubt about that.

Which remains an issue for the NBA, who has fans paying big money for seats — and broadcast partners paying bigger money to show the games — only to see the top players sit out. It’s not good optics. The league will start a week earlier next year and the NBA will try to space out games a little more, but if the schedule is at 82 games there’s only so much that can be done (and it’s hard to imagine the number of games being reduced just because of the potential financial issues). There is no easy answer here. (And spare me the “back in the day guys didn’t rest” crap, as former player turned agent B.J. Armstrong said on a PBT Podcast, if they had the data then that teams do now guys would have rested.)

All of which means, expect James Harden to get a few games off next regular season.