James Harden hits the club after Houston's season-ending, 39-point loss

James Harden leaves the court on Thursday. (Getty Images)

James Harden swears that he was fully healthy during Thursday’s season-ending, Game 6 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, chasing off any suggestions that the MVP candidate worked through injury or illness or both in one whopper of a disappointment in Houston’s defeat.

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Harden, infamously, piled up just 10 points on 11 shots in Houston’s final contest of 2016-17, turning the ball over six times to seven dimes, while working with San Antonio star defender Kawhi Leonard on the team’s inactive list due to a sprained ankle. The league remains astonished. Game 7 should have been on Sunday.

Duty-bound, Harden was still spotted at a Houston-area club following the comments. TMZ insists that he was showered with “MVP” chants as he made Thursday turn into Friday:

TMZ Sports obtained footage of Harden at Set in Houston where he turned up in the VIP section while Travis Scott performed.

Kylie Jenner was in the building along with some Houston Texans players.

Harden and the Rockets had a rough night before the club — losing to the Spurs in a 114-75 route that eliminated them from the playoffs. Harden only scored 10 points.

Multiple witnesses say Harden went to Dreams strip club later on in the night — and why not? It’s not like he has to work today.

Harden will receive fresh hell for this – with most initial responders typically preferring for the guard to head directly home to straighten some socks, John Wooden-styled, until the fall hits – which is unfortunate. Any non-basketball influence will take away from our chance to dissect one of the stranger, and quite successful, individual years in recent NBA history. Harden may have struggled in Game 2 before turning the ball over nine times in Game 5, but Thursday night felt like it took place on another planet.

Because that’s what happens. Sometimes you get only 48 minutes. Less than half of that in most instances, if we’re truly honest, and that term is often unrepresentative.

It’s fair to disagree with any attempt at aligning Harden with other presumably exhausted gunners of his ilk – Russell Westbrook at least went down firing 20 times in the second half, to the tune of 29 points, in Oklahoma City’s elimination loss to Houston – which is why Harden will get the worst of the treatment that (say it with me, again) Kobe Bryant received in 2006 for his tottering work in a Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns, and LeBron James for his almost criminal attempts at leaving the scene of a Celtics/Cavaliers playoff game in 2010.

He’s earned it. Harden made no move to lay an excuse for his seemingly indifferent postgame performance, and his handlers weren’t quick to flood the anonymous airwaves with suggestions about the fall. Keeping up his engagement at the club will only add to the fodder, attention Harden has brought upon himself: James knows the cameras are going to be out, and that nothing goes undocumented in 2017. Few NBA players understand this better than Harden, which is why the last clip of his Thursday night half-slouched more as a symbol of defiance. It wasn’t like Harden didn’t think this through.

Due to that choice, though, he has left with this. By 2017, the idea that Harden should be able to blow off some steam anonymously, especially after a game as notable as this, is out the window. There are going to be cell phones, and cell phones have cameras now.

As if the held-breath takes that awaited his desultory 2015-16 performance weren’t annoying enough, Harden will now plop down in at least one of the NBA’s great party cities in attempts to re-write that silly summertime narrative all over again. He’s off to a very visible start, and while he’s earned the right to let loose in private, this and every other little notch (even in an MVP year) will be chipped at with take after take until November this time next year, at least.

In just a few hours work – between another missing night out in a crucial playoff game, and with his move to his local(s) after that gig – James Harden left himself open for whatever hits. He’s already turned in yet another year that forced us to question how we consider what an NBA superstar should look like in action, and now he’s going to force a few of the grunters out there into hopefully realizing that James Harden is on nobody’s clock but his own, once that buzzer finally sounds.

(Or, more specifically, “when you foul out with 3:15 to go in your last game of the season, with your team down 37, to the strains of a standing ovation performed in a half-empty basketball arena.”)

This will be a certain type of summer.

Other teams that are gone until November:

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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