A look at Harden’s six most significant moments as a Sixth Man.
1. CLOSING TIME
It was the moment we’ve all been waiting for. A moment anyone with a working set of eyes could see should have played out long ago. It happened on the road, in Game 4 of this year’s playoffs against Dallas.
Harden had the ball in his hands down the stretch and was as splendid as everyone suspected he’d be. He captained a 13-point, fourth-quarter comeback win and closed out the Mavs by scoring 15 of his team-high 29 points in the final period. Harden was the Thunder’s offense. And the Mavs’ defense had no answer for him. He exploited the Mavs’ pick-and-roll defense and got whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. Three assists in the fourth quarter led to an additional nine points. Harden was quite simply the best player on a court that included Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook Dirk Nowitzki and former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry.
2. 40-PIECE NUGGET
In his 218th game, Harden cracked the 40-point plateau. On April 18, in a road game at Phoenix, Harden scorched the Suns by sinking 12-of-17 shots, 11-of-11 free throws and 5-of-8 3-pointers in 36 minutes. He also pulled down seven rebounds, grabbed three assists and came up with four steals. Prior to this game, Harden had scored at least 30 points only twice. This game proved that on any night he can be the third Thunder player who can score in bunches.
3. 2011 WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS GAME 5 AT DALLAS
If you remember, the Thunder led by seven with 5 1/2 minutes left to play before ultimately being eliminated. And it was Harden who got OKC that lead. Harden, at times, looked like the best player on the court. He was a wizard at running pick-and-rolls and was a nightmare for Dallas’ defense in transition, on handoffs and in isolations. Harden was so effective that he took over as the Thunder’s primary ball-handler and finished with 23 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go with six assists. Even in defeat, the performance became Harden’s first defining moment.
4. 2010 WESTERN CONFERENCE FIRST ROUND GAME 3
Prior to this game, we weren’t sure if Harden could handle the big stage. In his first two playoff games, Harden went scoreless after missing all five of his field-goal attempts and contributing just one rebound and one assist in 26 minutes. But he came alive when the series with the Lakers shifted to Oklahoma City. He scored 18 points on 4-for-7 shooting in Game 3 and added five rebounds, three assists and some inspired defense on Kobe Bryant. His biggest shot of the night was a transition 3-pointer off a feed from Kevin Durant that pulled the Thunder within 74-71 with 1:21 remaining in the third quarter. Durant then capped a 10-2 run with an ensuing 3-pointer that tied the game and helped OKC go on to secure a 101-96 win.
5. DUNK ON HICKSON
There was a time when experts questioned Harden’s athleticism. He silenced his critics once and for all after posterizing Cleveland’s J.J. Hickson on Dec. 12, 2010. Harden corralled a defensive rebound from underneath the basket and beat the entire Cavs team up the floor with five dribbles. When Harden exploded from two steps inside the free throw line, Hickson went up to challenge the attempt. Too late. Harden threw down a left-handed tomahawk while being fouled by Hickson with just less than a minute remaining in the first quarter. Harden punctuated the posterization by puffing repeatedly while peering at his teammates before unleashing a sly smile.
6. LIVING AT THE LINE AGAINST GOLDEN STATE
In his 20th career game, Harden scored 26 points against the Warriors on Dec. 7, 2009. But it was the way Harden scored half his points that stood out. Harden made 13 out of 14 free throws, which stands as his career best. In the second quarter, Harden marched to the stripe 10 times and made all 10. It was the first time we saw Harden’s ability to manufacture points so easily. That same knack for getting fouled is now a part of what makes Harden one of the most efficient players in the league.