If one Thunder player completely underwhelmed in Game One of the NBA Finals, it was sixth man extraordinaire James Harden.
Harden represents one of the biggest advantages the Thunder have in this series as the Heat are not exactly the deepest team and do not exactly have athleticism off the bench. Harden has the kind of game-changing offensive ability to pull Oklahoma City through some of the dull times in the middle of the second quarter.
So a five-point, two-for-six shooting performance raised some eyebrows even though the Thunder ended up winning. What probably had more people wondering is the fact that Harden, saddled with foul trouble, did not enter the game in the fourth quarter until there was 2:43 left and that Harden only played seven minutes in the second half (failing to score in that time).
Thabo Sefolosha was playing some fantastic defense and so Scott Brooks made the right call riding that hot hand. But moving forward, Oklahoma City knows it will need more from Harden, particularly on the offensive end as the two teams begin to make adjustments.
Can the Thunder survive another performance like that from Harden? Would Harden be OK with a reduced role should Sefolosha continue his brilliant defensive play?
The answer to the second question, at least, appears to be yes.
“I think I did a pretty good job,” Harden told the Associated Press. “Obviously I didn’t score the ball well but just defensively and doing other things to help the team win. Ws are all that matter now. It’s not about individual performances.
“I’ve just got to be aggressive and do whatever it takes and drive the lanes, find my shooters and find by bigs for easy dunks.”
Harden is best known for his offense and scoring ability — he scored in double digits in all of the Thunder’s previous 15 Playoff games — so it came as a surprise to see him score so few points in Oklahoma City’s 105-94 win. Seeing the Thunder score 105 points without him was certainly a shock.
And Harden is happy so long as his team is getting wins. The question is, what will he and what will the Thunder do if things start turning south?
Game Two is tonight to help us answer all of these questions as the chess match is just beginning.