James Harden Can Be the Hero for the Thunder Sometimes

James Harden isn’t an All-Star like his two more prolific¬†teammates, Westbrook and Durant, but his ability to score coming off the bench is just as important to the Thunder’s success. It was his scoring (29 points) that put his team back in the game, en route to a 103-97 win and a dominant¬†sweep¬†over the 2011 NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki probably described it best, after his best performance of the series, finishing with 34 points. Again, that wasn’t enough against the much better equipped Thunder, making the defending champion look old and out of place –¬†If you want to be an elite team in this league, you got to have two or three guys who can go off at any time and I just thought they had more weapons than us.

Kevin Duant finished with the 24-11 double double while Russell Westbrook had another weak night, finishing with 12 points (3-12 from the field) and six¬†assists. James Harden made up for his point guard’s problems with 15 points in the fourth quarter. The Mavs held a 13 point lead going in to the final quarter.


Harden hit them hard with coming off pick n’ rolls.¬†He beat us in individual drives, beat us in pick and rolls. He got up a head of steam and was great.¬†We tried everything, five or six different coverages going. We needed to be better but it was more about how good he was. (Rick Carlisle)

Harden is that extra something no other team in the NBA has. A third option that can go off and score at any given moment. The Lakers and the Heat might argue about having an equally good ‘big three’ but it seems like Bosh or Gasol aren’t the same offensive bonus that Harden brings into the game. Throw in the Thunder’s power inside the paint on both ends of the floor with Perkins and Ibaka, and some might say this is the best group of players in the NBA. Depth isn’t everything. A superstarish trio in their 20’s with depth is probably better.

Jason Kidd scored in double figures again, but the Thunder, like in previous games, were just fine with that. Jason Terry didn’t heat up like these were the 2011 NBA Finals, and Nowitzki, who was stripped of a costly¬†possession¬†near the end by Russell Westbrook, didn’t get the firepower support he so¬†desperately¬†needed. Maybe a in-shape Lamar Odom would have come in handy, but Odom is resting for an impressive salary, and the Mavs probably regret ever signing him.

This was the first time the Mavs were swept in a seven game playoff series, and their first sweep since the 1990 postseason. The Thunder never swept anyone since leaving Seattle. The Sonics swept the Houston Rockets in the 1996 playoffs.

Was this supposed to be this easy? Three of the four games were as close as you can ask for, including one rim bouncing shot by Kevin Durant to win game 1. The Mavericks do pose a problem for a team like Oklahoma and did a good job with handling Westbrook  and Durant most of the games, excluding game 3. But their lack of offensive options was a bitter pill to swallow.

Dirk Nowitzki isn’t what he was last season. Jason Terry isn’t what he was last season. Jason Kidd had a terrible season. There’s no one to score and affect the game like Tyson Chandler did last season. Vince Carter? Lamar Odom?! Not really worth mentioning. The hope of squeezing out another title run from this aging group wasn’t enough for more than a postseason berth against a better team in pretty much every aspect.

As for Oklahoma, Kevin Durant is the MVP some want him to be. He’s not LeBron James, but just might have a better supporting crew. They way in which they dispatched of the defending champions makes you feel like this might be the best team in this postseason, the favorites to win the NBA title.

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