James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder closed out the defending champion Dallas Mavericks Saturday night, completing the 4-0 sweep.
The Thunder trailed 81-68 entering the fourth quarter and it looked like the series would be going back to Oklahoma City.
Then Harden took over the game. The Thunder offense went exclusively through him as it usually does when he’s out there with the bench unit and it also continues to when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook checked back in.
An interesting thing to note here too is that Scott Brooks took Durant out with a few minutes left in the third quarter and when he does that it usually means Durant will start the fourth quarter and play the rest of the game.
If Durant starts the fourth does Harden completely take over? Maybe not.
In the fourth quarter the Thunder would have 22 offensive possessions. Twenty of them came in the half court and 15 straight of them were Harden dribbling down, getting one pick and creating everything.
Let’s go through the entire fourth quarter for the Thunder.
The first three possessions, the Thunder run their Corner 2 set that featured Harden and Nick Collison in dribble handoff action.
Harden comes off a Collison screen and drives left to the paint and then finds Daequan Cook throwing a pass across his body for the three. When Harden makes passes, shooters make shots because the basketball Gods love his passes.
11:38 – Dallas up 81-71
Harden drives left again off of a Collison screen and the ball is poked away out of bounds by Delonte West from behind. Cook then finds Serge Ibaka wide open for a dunk on a slip from the baseline out of bounds play.
10:56 – Dallas up 81-73
Before the ball can go to Collison on the next possession, Derek Fisher reads an opening to drive on the pick-and-roll and then misses the pull-up jumper.
10:11 – Dallas up 83-73
Durant checks back in. Now the Thunder are just having Harden bring the ball up usually to the right wing and bring a screen to him above the 3-point line. Harden drives hard left and gets fouled from behind and gets the continuation layup to fall and makes the free throw.
9:29 – Dallas up 86-76
Harden this time when he gets into the paint goes to his right and misses the tough layup. Ibaka follows up the offensive rebounds and misses the putback.
9:00 – Dallas up 86-76
Harden gets the pick-and-roll but nothing is there right away. He backs off then goes straight into West on the isolation drive and finishes with a tough eurostep from 10-feet away. Dallas fans wanted the travel.
Here are his last two buckets.
8:33 – Dallas up 86-78
Westbrook checks back in. Harden gets his screen again and goes hard to his left finishing with the layup.
8:07 – Dallas up 86-80
Harden gets the screen but there isn’t a lot of space to drive and kicks back to Durant who comes up some to the right wing and Durant drills the three. Again, shooters knock down shots when Harden is the passer.
7:26 – Dallas up 86-83
Harden gets the pick and splits the defenders on his way to the huge monster dunk.
6:39 – Dallas up 86-85
Dallas now decides to go to their matchup zone so that Harden can’t as easily attack the paint. It works in a way. Harden has to kick out to Westbrook on the left wing after the pick. Westbrook drives and kicks back out to Harden who swings it to Durant on the right wing who nails the three.
6:05 – Tie game 88-88
Harden gets the pick again and quickly kicks out to Durant on the right wing. Dirk comes up to close out on Durant and Durant drives hard baseline past him and finishes with the flush.
5:33 – Dallas up 91-90
Westbrook strips Dirk on defense then finds a trailing Ibaka for the fast break dunk to give the Thunder their first lead of the quarter.
5:16 – Oklahoma City up 92-91
Dallas still in the matchup zone. Harden waives off the Ibaka screen and goes one-on-one on Jason Kidd. He drives to his right and misses the layup over Ian Mahinmi.
4:37 – Oklahoma City up 92-91
Harden again isolates with Kidd on him and drives left this time but loses his handle on the way to the rim. He regains it then kicks back out to Derek Fisher who drives in for the layup.
4:05 – Oklahoma City up 94-91
Dallas is back in man. Harden gets the screen and drives left. Jason Terry helps on the drive and Harden kicks out to Westbrook on the left wing who misses the 3-pointer.
3:34 – Oklahoma City up 94-91
Harden in the pick-and-roll and Mahinmi doesn’t hedge creating a situation where Harden has momentum driving right at Mahinmi. Harden gets to his right and is fouled shooting the layup and makes both.
3:00 – Oklahoma City up 96-91
Thunder try and go pick-and-roll again with Harden. Nothing is there and Harden kicks to Durant. The ball goes back to Harden at the end of the shot clock and he goes one-on-one with Shawn Marion on him and scores going to his left with the layup.
2:30 – Oklahoma City up 98-93
Dallas is looking to go back into their matchup zone here but the Thunder are overloaded on the left side of the floor. Dallas gets confused and Harden swings to Durant on the right wing before the pick-and-roll comes all the way. Dallas is scrambling and Durant finds Collison diving to the rim and he’s fouled shooting a layup and makes both free throws.
2:01 – Oklahoma City up 100-95
Dallas in the zone and Marion ends up on Harden who decides to just isolate on him. Marion is playing off him and Harden knows he can get the stepback three off. He misses it.
1:27 – Oklahoma City up 100-95
The Thunder go to Durant isolating at the top of the key. He has space and elects to go for the pull-up straightaway 3-pointer. He misses it.
0:48 – Oklahoma City up 100-95
The Thunder go back to Harden in the pick-and-roll while Dallas is back in man. Harden gets Kidd to switch on to him and then easily drives by him going to his right and the paint is wide open for him to finish with the layup.
So Harden scores 15 in the quarter and dishes out three assists (all for 3-pointers). The Thunder ran the same basic play on 15 straight half court possessions and it worked incredibly well.
I’ve said before that the Thunder are at their best doing exactly this. With Harden as the playmaker and Durant and Westbrook off the ball they are maximizing the three’s potential. We saw Harden of course do that in Game 4 and Durant too showed us how good he can be off the ball.
Westbrook’s greatest impact came on defense but he’s shown before how effective he can be off the ball when Harden has it.
It was so important for Oklahoma City to get Harden playing well in their first round series and that’s exactly what happened. The sweep of the defending champs proved that the Thunder are serious contenders and they will go as far as Harden takes them.