OAKLAND – Basketball in his hands, he’s not particularly big or muscular. He’s rather deliberate in his movements. And he’s decidedly left-handed.
Seems simple enough to defend James Harden. Yet so many fail in the attempt.
If the Warriors stumble at all in their first-round playoff series against the Rockets, it’s a good bet Harden will be the reason. He’s the No. 2 scorer in the league, having averaged 29.0 points in the regular season. He was No. 2 last season and No. 5 the year before.
So, in short, the Harden puzzle continues to confound. Stephen Curry aside, there may be no player in the league who is better at finding ways to score.
Klay Thompson will be the first Warrior to defend Harden, but he’ll have plenty of tag-team partners, from Andre Iguodala to Harrison Barnes to Draymond Green.
“We’re going to do it collectively,” Thompson said after practice Friday. “I’ll be on him a lot. It’s a great challenge. Lucky for us, we’ve got so many good wing defenders that we can throw multiple looks at him.”
Thompson, more than any Warrior, knows the drill. They’ve been playing each other since their high-school days in the Los Angeles area, followed by their days in the Pac-12, with Thompson at Washington State and Harden at Arizona State.
Harden likes to shoot the 3-pointer; only Curry shot more in the regular season. Harden also likes to attack the rim, where he has a knack for drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. He’s the only man to shoot more than 800 free throws in each of the last two seasons.
“You can’t reach,” Thompson said after practice Friday. “You’ve got to stay disciplined and go straight up. Definitely don’t reach on him. You’ve got to lock in every possession. You can’t relax or he can score in bunches.”
Harden was by turns fabulous and awful against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals last May. After going 24-of-41 (58.5 percent) in the first two games, he was 18-of-49 (36.7) over the last three.
Thompson and his friends had a little something to do with that.
“He’s a great two-way guard and tries to make it as tough as possible on him,” Curry said of Thompson. “That first line of defense against James is obviously important because he has such a great first step and has a lot of ‘iso’ situations, and it’s hard to send help too early in the possession. You’ve got to have somebody that can challenge him, especially around the 3-point line, and keep him off those good looks. And then we can help around that.
“Klay has done a great job. Andre has done a great job. Draymond has done a great job. We’re going to do it by committee, but Klay definitely loves that challenge.”
The challenge will be there in this series, which begins at 12:30 Saturday afternoon in Oracle Arena.