NBA playoffs: Is this really all 76ers' James Harden has left?

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Is this really all Harden has left? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

You keep searching for that guy. You keep waiting for that guy. You keep hoping for that guy.

You see an incredible pass here and a few quick buckets in a row there and delude yourself into thinking he’s back and that he can really be the difference maker the 76ers desperately need.

But then the moment is gone with another awkward drive into the lane, another step-back 3-pointer clanking off the side of the rim, another pass in the paint to nobody in particular, and you realize it just isn’t there.

There’s nothing special about James Harden right now.

We all keep waiting to see the player who just two years ago led the NBA with 34 points per game, the player who over the last 11 years shot 45 percent from the field, the player whose explosive scoring, relentless rebounding and brilliant passing made him a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

And maybe that hamstring injury he brought over from the Nets is still affecting him, but whatever the reason, Harden is no more than a mediocre veteran these days, and the 76ers need a lot more than mediocrity from him.

He’s sluggish and slow, and that makes him easy to defend. When he drives the lane, he’s not picking up the fouls he used to because defenders have an extra moment to get in front of him. So too often those drives become charges or ugly turnovers or missed shots and before you know it the other team is fast-breaking down the court for an easy lay-up.

He can’t shoot. He really just can’t shoot, and it’s painful to watch. His shots seem off as soon as they leave his hand, and they often arrive at the rim at ungainly angles that give them no chance to find their way into the hoop.

He’s been over 36 percent just once in the five-game series, and he’s shot 50 percent in just three of his last 22 games.

Since March 5, he’s shooting 36.7 percent. Only one player in the NBA is worse during that span, and that’s Trail Blazers rookie Brandon Williams (34.1 percent). Harden is also under 30 percent from 3 since March 5 and at 44 percent from 2.

He’s never been a high-percentage shooter, but even with his hot start in those first four games he’s at 39.5 percent as a 76er, and that’s the worst of his career.

At his best, Harden finds ways to have a positive effect on games even when he’s not shooting great. But that’s not happening. His rebounding is down from 7.1 per game with the 76ers in the regular season to 4.8 in the Raptors series. Assists are down nearly 1 ½ per game from 10.5 to 9.2. Turnovers are up but just a bit from 3.4 to 3.6.

When you miss nearly two-thirds of your shots, you better be damn good in every other facet of your game, and right now Harden isn’t.

You want him to make a huge play to turn the momentum when the Raptors go on a run, but he doesn’t. You want him to be the James Harden of old on huge possessions down the stretch, but he can’t. You look for signs that he’s still a guy who can carry a team at key moments and help the 76ers regain control of a series that seems to be slipping away, and they just aren’t there.

He’s not awful. He’s not useless. He’s still averaging 18 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds in the series, and the last 76er to hit those marks through five games of any postseason series since Wilt.

READ: 3 observations after Sixers' woeful Game 5 loss to Raptors

And once in a while, he catches your attention with a riveting blind pass to set up an easy layup or a couple step-back 3’s in a row.

But those moments are way too infrequent.

He hasn’t had a game where he’s shot 50 percent and committed fewer than three turnovers in a month. He’s had just two since he got here in February.

In a crucial Game 5 on Monday night, with Joel Embiid struggling with that thumb and Tyrese Maxey still searching for his game, Harden was simply unable to raise his game to anything resembling an elite player.

He’s clearly no longer the James Harden who can perform magic on the basketball court. Who can raise a struggling team through the sheer force of his will. Who can consistently make plays on both ends of the court to help put his team win.

And with each passing game, it seems less and less likely we’re ever going to see that James Harden again.