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Oklahoma City Thunder: OKC shut down James Harden and the Rockets in Game 1, now can they do it again?

For a player who was widely viewed as the Thunder's best ballhandler and most effective creator in half-court sets, James Harden's inability to shine in half-court sets served as a microcosm of how stingy OKC's defense was in Game 1. Can the Thunder now do it again?
by Darnell Mayberry Published: April 23, 2013

Against a high-octane Rockets offense, the Thunder set the tone for this series by turning in one of its best defensive performances of the season.

“That's the way you beat this team,” said Derek Fisher. “Impact their ability to score the ball … If we want to win the series then we'll ask ourselves to keep doing that.”

Houston, which ranked second in the league in scoring at 106 points per game in the regular season, is 7-20 when it fails to reach triple digits. In the three wins against the Rockets this year, the Thunder has held Houston to 94.3 points.

On Sunday, the Thunder threw off the Rockets by employing a swarming defense that relied on switching defenders against the majority of Houston's ball screens and cutters. The strategy baited the Rockets into ditching their ball movement and settle instead on isolation basketball.

“It makes them be kind of selfish,” said Serge Ibaka. “When you switch against a team like them that makes them go to a lot of one-on-one. That's good for us. For them, they are going to take tough shots, some contested shots. That's something we want, something we're looking for.”

Perhaps it was no coincidence that Houston's three biggest weapons, Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, scored a combined 33 points on 37 shots.

“They didn't play as well as they can play,” Brooks said, “so we expect them to come out much better. So we have to. We have to come out much better.”

After a two-day hiatus, the Thunder sounds ready to again rev it up.

“I think the best thing about this team is that we're focused on what the task at hand is,” said Russell Westbrook. “And I think if we come out every night and play the way we played (Sunday) night it's going to be tough to beat us.”