Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade blocks Oklahoma City Thunder's James Harden as Harden shoots in the second quarter in Game 2 of the NBA Finals at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, OK, June 14, 2012.
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Sixth Man turned into its Main Man early on in Miami’s 100-96 win Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. And that was a good thing for the Heat.
James Harden, who hardly earned his Sixth Man of the Year status in Game 1, exploded for 21 points, well over his 16.8 ppg average, with 17 coming in the first half. But Harden’s big first half meant Thunder NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook weren’t having their best games early on.
In fact, Durant had just six first half points while Westbrook had nine. It was Westbrook’s second slow start of the series.
Harden’s early output was just in time to save the Thunder from being run completely out of their gym in the first two quarters. Just like Miami did in their game one loss, the Heat jumped out to an early 55-43 first half lead and led by seventeen at one point.
Harden, who vowed to be more aggressive in Game 2 while talking to media at Thursday morning’s shootaround, was 5 for 9 from the field with two three pointers. The effort helped make up for Durant and Westbrook’s slow starts and also kept the Thunder within striking distance.
In this year’s three matchups before Thursday night’s game, the Heat has bottled up Harden while forcing uncharacteristic turnovers in one of the games and low point outputs in the others.
“The three times we’ve played them, they’ve done a good job with James; of really attacking his dribble and trapping his pick-and-rolls,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said following his team’s shoot around Thursday morning. “But he has to figure that out by moving it quickly and attacking the outside foot of the bigs. I expect him to do that much better tonight.”
And Harden did. He also limited his turnovers to zero and added two assists.
But in the second half Harden returned to mortal while adding just four points, although they were big four points. Meanwhile, Westbrook and Durant regained their old form and nearly pulled the Thunder to their second win of the series. Westbrook finished with 27 point and Durant had 32.
Heading into Game three in Miami, the Heat will likely trade a big first half from Harden for a cooled off Durant and Westbrook.Awkward moments
After playing for archrivals for the bulk of their NBA careers, it hasn’t always been the smoothest transition for Derek Fisher (formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers) and Kendrick Perkins (formerly of the Boston Celtics) to blend together with the Thunder.
The two were on opposite sides for a pair of championship series, with Perkins and the Celtics winning it all in 2008 and Fisher getting even in 2010.
“It seems so long ago. Oftentimes, we’re talking about things in the locker room and I’ll get ready to say something and I’ll have to think twice about it, like, ‘Perk was on that team, so I better be careful before I say what I’m getting ready to say,’” Fisher said.
“I’m sure he’s had those moments as well, just out of respect for each other.”
Fisher said there have been a few moments of irony, particularly when it looked for a time that Oklahoma City’s opponent in the finals would be Boston.