May 5, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (13) shoots against Dallas Mavericks forward Shawn Marion (0) during game four of the 2012 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center. The Thunder beat the Mavs 103-97. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Oklahoma City Thunder sweep Dallas Mavericks with James Harden’s beard

Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

James Harden took his game to another level Saturday night in Game 4 of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first round matchup with the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.

The Thunder completed the sweep of the Mavericks winning 103-97 and outscoring Dallas 35-16 in the final quarter.

Harden scored 15 of his playoff career-high 29 points in the fourth quarter and also had five assists, five rebounds and three steals in the game. Everything went through Harden in the fourth as he completely took over.

Oklahoma City trailed 81-68 entering the fourth quarter and Harden got hot quick. Down 86-73 with 9:29 left in the game Harden would score seven straight points and then find Kevin Durant open for a 3-pointer as the Thunder went on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to three with 7:26 to play.

The Thunder continued their comeback in the next two minutes to take the lead behind a 3-pointer and three dunks.

Dirk Nowitzki made two free throws to cut the Thunder lead to 100-97 with 33 seconds left in the game only to see Harden respond again.

The offense continued to go through Harden until the very end. Harden isolated and scored on a layup with a second left on the shot clock and 10 seconds left in the game to put the finishing touches on the Thunder win.

The other Thunder players stepped up their games inspired by the elevated play of Harden.

Durant started making threes when he came back in the game in the fourth and finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

Russell Westbrook struggled shooting on the night going 3-for-12 with 12 points but came up with a big steal from behind on Dirk that led to the fast break dunk for Serge Ibaka that gave the Thunder their first lead of the fourth with 5:16 left in the game.

Ibaka had the task of guarding Dirk for most of the night after Kendrick Perkins went down with a strained right hip in the first quarter and did not return.

Dirk scored 34 in the game but the Thunder defense rose to the occasion when they needed to, to get stops.

After Ibaka fouled out with just over two minutes left, Durant came up with three huge defensive rebounds and was noticeably more engaged on defense.

The Thunder once again look they are growing up in this series. It was another game that Dallas had in the bag and could have easily won but the Thunder never gave up.

They’ve played this way all season too and their ability to carry that into the playoffs and trust Harden to be the catalyst down the stretch has to make you think this team is a real contender this year.

Dallas is the first defending champ to be swept in the first round since Miami in 2007 lost 4-0 to Chicago.

The Mavericks were not the same this year and were clearly waiting for this summer to make some more moves.

Credit the Thunder for playing hard every game in this series and gutting out three really tough, close wins.

Oklahoma City will now await the winner of the Lakers-Nuggets series in the second round. The Lakers currently are up 2-1 but did lost Game 3 last night in Denver.

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Tags: Beard Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki First Round Game 4 James Harden Kendrick Perkins Kevin Durant Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka Sweep

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