After seeing his performance during the regular season, I always felt that James Harden deserved to win the MVP award.
He basically carried the Houston Rockets all season while various teammates dealt with injuries, in addition to having to adjust to the roster changes at the drop of a hat.
Through it all, James Harden had been the one constant for the Houston Rockets all season. However, when you look back at his performance through the first four games of the Western Conference Semifinals versus the Los Angeles Clippers, the Bearded One had played like a guy who was incapable of delivering in the big moments.
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Unable to capitalize when facing a hobbled All-Star point guard in Chris Paul or even a playoff rookie in Austin Rivers, Harden and the Rockets made me question whether or not they were indeed capable of putting up a fight.
But with his team facing a must win situation in Game 5, and battling the flu in the process, James Harden showed why you should still "Fear the Beard".
James Harden posted a season-saving triple-double of 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in a Game 5 win against the Clippers.
His return to his MVP form allowed the Houston Rockets to live to fight another day, and make sure that the Los Angeles Clippers have some company as they return to Los Angeles for Game 6.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers summed up Houston's performance very well during his postgame news conference
"They were more focused," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "They played like they were the desperate team, and we didn't play very desperate."
For the Houston Rockets, the words "focused" and "desperate" definitely need to be written on their locker room white board if they want to have any chance of winning Game 6 and bringing the Clippers with them back to Houston for a series deciding Game 7.
The sense of urgency that was on display for Game 5 must continue. But it must start with James Harden, as he has to be the one to lead this team. It can't be Dwight Howard, or Trevor Ariza, or Jason Terry, or even Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. It can only be James Harden.
This is what James Harden has been asking for all along: the opportunity to show that he can be "The Man".
No longer is he in the shadow or Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant in Oklahoma. No longer is he "super sub" James Harden. He's now "superstar" James Harden, and his Game 5 performance is proof of that.
But whether or not the Houston Rockets will be able to build on their momentum remains to be seen. Is The Beard here to stay, or will he be cut off by a fresh set of clippers?
NBA fans: What do you think, can Harden and the Rockets upset the odds vs the Clippers? Let us know in the comments section below...