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James Harden is the Thunder's X-factor

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: May 10, 2011 at 9:56 pm •  Published: May 10, 2011

So much from Monday's triple-overtime thriller will be overshadowed.

But there was one thing that never had a chance to get overshadowed, something more than likely seen only by nearby spectators and overlooked by all others.

It was Thunder assistant coach Rex Kalamian riding second-year guard James Harden.

Following nearly every possession, Kalamian would bark instructions from the bench. During stoppages in play, the coach would pull the player aside and preach the team's principles. Harden is one of a handful of players Kalamian is personally responsible for drilling and developing. The personal attention Kalamian provides Harden permits a stronger relationship. And at times throughout Monday's Game 4, Harden had to get his coach off his back.

Harden, on several occasions, looked over and calmed down Kalamian. When he failed to execute a defensive principle, Harden would insist he's trying. When it looked like he might have been lost offensively, Harden would swear he was good.

And he was.

It was that bond, that back-and-forth, between coach and player that helped spark the Thunder to a 133-123 win to knot this series at two games apiece. Those types of interactions played out all night long on the Thunder bench and became the reason the Thunder is in great position to take a 3-2 lead with a win in Game 5 inside Oklahoma City Arena on Wednesday.

But Harden was the X-factor.

While other players scored more, shot better from the field or secured more highlight-reel plays, Harden was simply solid. And it's his play that has proven to be the biggest key to the Thunder this postseason.

When Harden is on, he's a legitimate third offensive option. His skills as a perimeter shooter, pick-and-roll player and slasher take stacks of pressure off of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder is 5-1 this postseason when Harden scores in double figures. The team is 0-3 when he doesn't. But it's not just Harden's scoring that's been big. He's showing an all-around awareness and a growing willingness to compete on the defensive end. He's also averaging five rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 1.2 steals and 3.4 assists in the playoffs.

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