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Jenni Carlson: Thunder got even the Harden way

by Jenni Carlson Published: May 20, 2011

DALLAS — James Harden was looking for Kevin Durant.

What he saw instead in the final seconds of the third quarter Thursday night was a shot clock running dangerously low. With Jason Terry backing off him ever so slightly, the Thunder shooting guard made a decision.

Shoot it.

“I just tried to make a play,” Harden said.

He made a big one.

Harden not only stuck the 3-pointer but also converted a four-point play after he was fouled. It gave the Thunder a lead heading into the fourth quarter, a lead it never relinquished.

Thunder 106, Mavs 100.

After the opening game of the Western Conference Finals, it was clear that Kevin Durant needed a sidekick. The Thunder superstar had a monster outing, but Oklahoma City still lost.

Fast forward to Thursday night.

Durant scored a lot less points, but the Thunder scored a major victory.

Russell Westbrook was that yin to Durant's yang during the first three quarters, scoring 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting, but after a late third-quarter turnover, the point guard exchanged words with Thunder coach Scott Brooks.

He didn't return to the game.

No doubt part of that was because the Thunder B Team plus Durant was playing so well. Why mess up the rhythm? Why screw with a good thing?

But as much as anything, the decision to leave Westbrook on the bench was about Harden. He provided that second scoring option and take pressure off Durant.

Harden hit 4 of 5 shots and scored 10 points in the decisive fourth quarter.

He finished with 23 points, second only to Durant's 24 points, but he did a lot more than score. Harden came within one point of leading the Thunder in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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