The Loop

Here We Go Again

James Harden vs. Giannis could be the NBA's Koepka-DeChambeau, and it's all about pace of play

June 18, 2021

The other day on the golf course, I watched from the tee as a very bad player on the fairway ahead took 11 practice swings before hitting his approach. ("Approach" is too kind a word for what the shot did, but you get my point.) The badness I could take—I'm also a medium-bad golfer—but the slow pace was infuriating. My emotions at that moment appear to be exactly what James Harden feels these days while watching Giannis Antetokounmpo's free-throw routine. Not only is it bad, but it's slow . . . egregiously slow, and in fact illegally slow. Keep an eye on Harden in the video below:

He's even more demonstrative here:

That "yo!" from Harden, with his hands thrown up at the end, and the later half-storm-off, says it all. He's basically asking, "do we have rules here or not?" Technically, the NBA allots ten seconds to each player per free throw, but in reality this is a limit that has never been enforced. I remember as a kid watching Karl Malone dither endlessly while opposing fans counted him down, and no ref ever blew the whistle on the Mailman. It's just not that important to them, and obviously they feel the rule isn't worth observing when the difference is a matter of seconds and going by the letter of the law could affect a game.

Still, that doesn't make it less annoying for players like Harden, who shoot their free throws at a more normal clip. It's worth pointing out, though, that it's no picnic for Giannis either. The Greek Freak gets to the line a lot, it's imperative that he performs well there, and he's just not. At 53.2%, the Hack-a-Freak strategy is becoming more and more appealing to teams like the Nets at the end of games, and in general Giannis' lack of an effective show, at the line or otherwise, is once again making it difficult for him to play like a true superstar in the cauldron of the playoffs. That's why he takes forever to shoot his free throws—it's his method of calming down and trying to establish a solid routine to raise his percentage. Harden knows this, and on some level knows that yelling about it only adds to Giannis' stress.

After flailing down the stretch in game five, and watching Kevin Durant show what a real superstar looked like in Brooklyn's improbable comeback, Giannis righted the ship in game six, but Saturday's game seven will mean everything to his young career. The Bucks would already have advanced if Giannis could shoot, and in fact they probably would already have won a title two years ago. In order for him to prove he's more than just a regular season star, he's got to show that his brand of game can be effective in the biggest moments.

Meanwhile, James Harden knows this might be his best shot at a title, and he's doing everything he can to heap the pressure on his opponent. The Giannis-Harden feud may never rise quite to the level of Bryson-Brooks, but you can bet things will be tense and angry in the heat of game seven.