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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.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: April 23, 2012

The Thunder ranks second in the league in free throw attempts per game with a 26.5-average, just 0.2 behind first-placed Denver. But in the final 22 minutes, the Thunder attempted only eight.

The absence of Harden was a huge hit in that department. Harden's 9.1 free throws per 48 minutes rank him 11th in the league, while his 7.7 made free throws per 48 minutes rank him sixth.

Also missing was Harden's surgeon-like precision in the pick-and-roll. Gone was the Thunder's third dimension, which involves putting the ball in Harden's hands and allowing him to create plays for himself and others. Before the wicked elbow by World Peace, we saw Harden carve up the Lakers' defense in the first half — despite some stout defense by Lakers forward Matt Barnes — by operating beautifully with the help of ball screens. In just 13 minutes, Harden scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting while dishing out three assists.

Only recently has the Thunder began going to Harden late in game (although still not fully utilized), and OKC sorely needed Harden's craftiness in crunchtime Sunday.

Instead, the Thunder settled.

Unlike Harden, Durant and Westbrook appeared uncomfortable at best and confused at worst at how to create a quality shot out of pick-and-rolls. So they did what was easiest. They fired up jump shots … on nine of the final 11 possessions.

The Thunder called them good looks.

But as eight of this final nine hoists missed the mark, each one demonstrated the dire need for Harden to get the Thunder something better.

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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