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Who helped lift Harden to new heights?

John Rohde Published: June 2, 2012
Thunder backup guard James Harden was a near-unanimous selection this season as the Sixth Man of the Year, an award many view as the most selfless on-court honor the NBA bestows. Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry proclaimed Harden as the league's third-best shooting guard behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Harden also has been invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic team this summer for the 2012 Games in London.           While accolades continue to stream in for Harden, there has been a major oversight in acknowledging who has helped lift Harden to such heights. It's the same man Harden almost always replaces when he first enters a contest.          
Thabo Sefelosha took center stage in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals with 19 points, six rebounds, six steals and one blocked shot in the Thunder's 102-82 victory over the San Antonio Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Sefolosha defended All-Star point guard Tony Parker from the outset and opened with four steals in the first seven possessions of the contest.           That Sefolosha excelled in such a manner came as no surprise to Harden, the man who goes face-to-face with him at practice. "He gets after it," Harden said. "He makes me better in practice, I think that's why I'm such a competitor now. He's a very good defender. He's very smart. He knows how to play the game on the defensive end as well. That's why we have competitive battles in practice. We almost fight in practice. We get each other better, that's what makes it so good."           One of the premier perimeter defenders in the league, Sefolosha stands 6-foot-7 and has an astounding 7-foot wingspan. The 6-foot-5 Harden more than holds his own in part because proportionately, he has an even more impressive wingspan (6-foot-11) than Sefolosha.           Harden said trying to shoot over Sefolosha isn't the only difficulty. "Getting the pass (off), shooting, try and drive," Harden said. "Even if you so happen to get past Thabo, you've still got Serge (Ibaka) and Perk (Kendrick Perkins) in the back. So, it's tough."           Does Sefolosha ever talk smack? "Of course," Harden said with smile, "but in his language (French). So I don't know what he's talking about. He's a great guy."           Game 4 of the series is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at The Peake.

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