Durant said the start of the fourth quarter generally is when Harden gets it going and provides his most significant spark. Yet Harden wasn't given the chance to Sunday.
The Thunder started the fourth quarter by allowing Harden to orchestrate the offense on its first two possessions. Harden used the first set, a ball screen by Nick Collison, to knock down a jump shot. On the second possession, Harden attacked off another ball screen by Collison but was whistled for a charging foul when Spurs forward Tiago Splitter slid his feet to get into position. The Thunder held a 73-66 lead at that point, but by the time Harden got his next shot to run the offense OKC trailed 96-89.
It's possible Brooks lost a bit of trust in Harden after he corralled a defensive rebound, raced the other way and picked up another charging violation while trying to convert a layup with 8:55 remaining.
“He had two charges and he had tough looks in the game,” Brooks said. “But they did a great job on him. They really collapsed his lanes and he didn't get a lot of opportunities to take it to the basket.”
Harden certainly struggled. He had eight points on 3-of-12 shooting through three quarters. But Harden also has proved himself capable of heating up in a hurry, as evidenced by his fourth quarter in the closeout Game 4 against Dallas, when he scored or assisted on 24 of the team's final 35 points.
“I think (Sunday) night we were kind of all over the place in the fourth quarter,” Harden said.
The Thunder can't afford similar chaos Tuesday night and risk going down 2-0. How Harden performs will go a long way in determining the outcome of Game 2. In six games since the start of the Lakers series, Harden has made just 26-of-70 shots, a mere 37 percent.
“There's going to be times in every series or every game that you're going to have a guy struggle here or there,” Brooks said. “James has been good for us all year, and we believe in him … He's going to make some shots. He made some shots at the end (Sunday). Hopefully that gives him some confidence going into Tuesday night's game.”