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James Harden's amazing season made his horrible exit so painful to watch

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James Harden was so good all year. That's what made his 2-of-11, 13-turnover performance in the Rockets' final loss so sad to watch.

The Rockets never had a chance. This was clear both historically and analytically. The one game they were able to best the Warriors was fueled by Josh Smith making an unrealistic number of threes. You can't live or recreate that. It's a glitch.

But what could have happened was James Harden going down swinging. He had one more chance to show he, and not Stephen Curry, should have been the MVP.

He didn't even come close. The numbers -- 2-of-11 from the field with 13 (!) turnovers -- tell the story, but it was even more painful watching it happen.

To be clear, this shouldn't be seen as anything more than a bad day at the office. Harden has done enough during the season and in the playoffs to back his MVP credentials. His Game 4 performance was a Pandora's box of weapons that the Warriors couldn't contain. In Games 1 and 2, Harden was one of the few Rockets performing well. That's why it was painful to see him hunched over after committing a turnover to lose Game 2 and knocking over curtains as he exited. He was doing his best and it just wasn't enough.

In Game 5, he didn't have to wait till the last play of the game to commit the deciding turnover. He started from the first quarter and continued to present the Warriors with gifts until the end. When he wasn't handing out cookies in a fashion that would please the Girl Scouts of America, he seemed otherwise disengaged.

The Rockets needed Harden to touch the ball early and often in order for them to be in this game. ESPN's announcers frequently repeated that Harden needed to take control, get away from his man and lead with his actions. Instead, we got a version of The Beard that was passive enough to cruise through an elimination game. It was as if he only came so he wouldn't get fined.

Rather than being decisive when he got the ball at the top of the key, he started to dance. Andre Igudola and even Draymond Green watched the ball rather than his hips and proceeded to pick his pockets. When Harden didn't lose the ball, he was allowing the Warriors to set their defense and get comfortable. It was bad all around.

When he did drive, he went to his old tricks. It's generally frustrating to watch the reflexive head tilt, the hooking of the arms of defenders and the loud yell to indicate contact, but it works. He at least got to the line as he always does, especially when he drew in a reckless Klay Thompson.

But the Warriors learned the same way that Matt Barnes did during the series against the Clippers. As Harden drove, Warriors defenders raised their hands so the refs were aware of their positioning. Unlike the last game, when Harden was locked in, he looked so much for the foul that he threw the ball up foolishly. Those would-be-fouls became turnovers or misses. As Harden spent time looking around in disbelief, Golden State dashed to the other end.

With Thompson in foul trouble -- before being the victim of a Tony Jaa-style flying knee -- and Curry struggling, everything seemed set for another Harden explosion. The Warriors' lead was close enough that he could have initiated a run that would have made for an exciting last quarter. Instead the hero was Harrison Barnes, who rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter. Harden wasn't even a good anti-hero: Dwight Howard, who seemed to mock the referees and their inability to eject him, had that on lockdown.

It's asking a lot for Harden to constantly perform at his absolute best considering the futility of the situation. The odds were stacked too much against the Rockets. But considering how talented Harden is and the great year he's had, this finale is incredibly disappointing. There's no reason that the MVP runner-up should go almost 30 minutes in a conference finals elimination game without making a field goal. He's far too good for that shame.

So rather than walking off with another jaw-dropping, heroic playoff performance, Harden will be in the history books for committing a record 13 turnovers, the highest in NBA postseason history. Our lasting image of his season won't be a reel of highlights. Instead, it'll be of him dribbling the ball off his own foot and watching in despair as it rolls out of bounds.

He went out in a whimper, and you should never go gently into the night. Especially not when you're James Harden.

SB Nation presents: Highlights from James Harden's impressive year