James Harden's a big key to a deep Thunder playoff run
When the guard left the Lakers' game after getting elbowed in the head by Metta World Peace, the Thunder struggled to score in key moments of the game.
If there was any question about how valuable James Harden is to the Thunder, look no further than what transpired Sunday.
With its sixth man stuck in the visitor's locker room inside Staples Center nursing a concussion, the Thunder squander a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead and suffered an embarrassing 114-106 double-overtime loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers.
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In the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City's offense basically became a predictable horror picture, with the final 15 set plays in regulation being run for Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.
The team's two All-Stars essentially took turns jacking up jump shots in every way possible: out of pick-and-rolls, off screens and, worst of all, out of ill-timed and ill-advised isolations.
No Harden meant no easy buckets.
Now, it's anyone's guess when the team's most dynamic playmaker will return.
But as the opening weekend of the playoffs nears, the Thunder can only hope Harden's symptoms subside soon. Sunday's game proved that with Harden, the Thunder has a championship-caliber, three-headed monster offensively that can be nearly impossible to stop, and without him, well, OKC could be on upset alert in round one.
That's the significance of one swing of the elbow by Metta World Peace.
Without Harden on Sunday, the Thunder scored 54 points in the 34 minutes that made up the second half and two overtimes. With Harden, the Thunder scored 52 points in the first 24 minutes.
Worse, when the Lakers made their push and tightened up the game, the Thunder made just 9-of-36 shots (25 percent) in the fourth quarter and overtimes. Durant had several shot rim out during that span, but neither Durant nor Westbrook made the adjustment in the face of mounting missed jump shots to get to the basket and force the issue.
“We were taking jump shots,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “You're not going to get an opportunity to get to the line when you take jump shots.”
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