When Harden is playing well, the Thunder offense hums. Harden usually is in for defensive whiz Thabo Sefolosha, so the Thunder has scorers all over the perimeter. Durant. Westbrook. Jeff Green.
When Harden is driving and dishing and finishing at the hoop and knocking down 3-pointers, the Thunder is hard to guard.
"It’s huge for us,” teammate Nick Collison. "We’ve been missing some perimeter shooting. He gives us that scorer off the bench. Hopefully, he’ll stay aggressive. I think he will.”
We’ll see. Another Reed adage — young teams feed off the home crowd — works against Harden. The Staples Center isn’t the nuthouse the Ford Center was these last two games and never will be. But Laker games have their own kind of environmental pressure. Stage lighting. Celebrities sitting courtside. Those regal jerseys that proclaim basketball excellence.
Harden wilted under such a spotlight last week.
"It’s a matter of being aggressive and not being passive,” Harden said. "Just having energy.”
Harden is an unassuming player. Little flash. But when he’s aggressive, he can drive the paint, get to the basket and/or draw a foul. He’s a nifty passer, too, the Thunder’s best next to Westbrook.
That lack of flash is refreshing. It’s one of the charms that made Sam Presti want to draft Harden.
But that nature can sometimes drift into passivity. Harden can go missing. He can let the game pass him by.
"I just want him to be aggressive going to the basket,” Brooks said. "That first shot doesn’t have to be a three. If you’re open, you have to take it, but don’t look for it.”
Strange thing is, Harden has been a good road player this season. His numbers are much better away from home: 10.6 points (9.2 at home), 3.3 rebounds (3.1), 41.8 percent shooting (38.6), 39.8 3-point shooting (34.8).
Repeat those road numbers tonight or Sunday in Game 7, and Harden could be a role player traveling to the second round of the playoffs.
405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.