Buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

Ball Don't Lie

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s season is riding on James Harden’s return to James Harden-ish play

View photo


James Harden considers his future before Game 5 (Getty Images)

For a while there, everything seemed to be going right for James Harden. Sure, he'd missed a few shots and complained a little about lack of opportunities in Game 1, but his team won and all seemed to be forgiven from both sides. Then, in Game 2, Harden put together a contest that reminded us of his turn as the most efficient pure scorer these playoffs had seen so far — 21 points on only 11 shots, seven trips to the line, nailed 2 of 3 3-pointers, all in under 35 minutes.

In his 34th minute and the final overall minute of Game 2, though, Harden gave an unnecessary foul on LeBron James that just about sealed the game in Miami's favor. It wasn't as obvious a mistake as Russell Westbrook's unfortunate intentional foul late in Game 4, but it was much-derided and the most significant thing many took from Harden's otherwise-spectacular Game 2 performance. Since then? He's been a wreck, typified by an embarrassing play late in Game 4 that even after a few viewings (and fantastic web breakdowns) of that particular Heat win I haven't been able to watch a second time — seriously, it makes me that uneasy to watch Harden flail like that. And this is from someone who likes his humor all British and cringe-y.

So what happens from here? How does the Thunder get their third seed, of sorts, back to bearing fruit? It is a necessity at this point, because Harden at times was the biggest reason the Thunder went on a legendarily stout offensive run to start the playoffs; an efficient turn that was somewhat masked by the team's low-ish possession count. His combination of sound drives, accurate 3-pointers and free-throw line marksmanship made just about every possession he used up an absolute killer for defenses, but with that threat dimmed the Thunder are going to have a terrible time attempting to extend the 2012 NBA Finals past a fifth game.

His needed presence as a scorer cannot be overstated. Charged with working on LeBron James at times and playing entire quarters at a time, Kevin Durant has to be mindful of his legs and shot attempts as he picks and prods his way to 30-some points. Russell Westbrook was clearly the business in Game 4, but expecting or especially leaning on another 43-point performance in Game 5 is going to put the Thunder away before the first whistle even blows. And while coach Scott Brooks can work around the edges — possibly securing a score on that token post-up for Kendrick Perkins, watching as Derek Fisher finally hits a 3-pointer or two, running a screen and roll for the athletic Nick Collison to finish on — Harden's return to prominence has to be the thing that puts OKC over the top.

It's so obvious, a between-game talking point that isn't actually hyped up despite how simple it seems. Dude has to come back. Has to.

The trick is going to be Brooks' to make, possibly taking a page from the book of his counterpart in Miami, and how he's managed to free Dwyane Wade at times during what has been an up and down playoff run for the future Hall of Famer. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has managed to run plays that, because of their quickness and simplicity, don't require Wade to slowly load up and consider each bent knee or extended arm as he readies his shot. The less thinking, even for this cerebral All-Star, the better. And just about any time you've seen Wade pull a fast one, so to speak, against Indiana, Boston and Oklahoma City? You're picturing it now. The ball is going in.

Related NBA Finals news from Yahoo! Sports:

Brooks has to find the right balance of making Harden a precious commodity, and an influence. A point of emphasis without clearing the pool and announcing that, hey everybody, we're going to Run Something For James Harden To Turn It All Around. The obvious answer to the obvious question cannot be executed in an obvious fashion, as Harden slowly loads his way toward his screen and roll. It can't be something that Mike Breen calls out before Harden even lets go of his first dribble after catching it on the wing.

No, James needs quick jabs. Quick moves and plays that run off of muscle memory, and not "got to get him going." The sorts of plays that, before you know it, have him heading into the locker room at halftime with nine points on just five shots. And not replicating a two-game turn in Miami that has seen him finish with more turnovers (six) than made shots (four, in 20 attempts from the floor).

It really is that necessary, and that desperate, by the way. We're not usually full of over the top pronouncements in these pages, but Brooks and Harden's ability and acumen in turning it all around in Game 5 will decide this series, and their team's season. Whether they play one more game or three.

The pressure — that heavy, heavy pressure — is on both. We don't envy them.

Excited for the NBA Finals? Join the BDL crew for a live Finals Chat on Twitter during Thursday night's Game 5. We'll be cracking jokes, sharing observations and talking about the game with NBA fans like you. Participate by using the hashtag #FinalsChat, and don't forget to follow @YahooBDL for your daily NBA fix.

View Comments (47)

Recommended for You

  • Former CB Brian Baucham Sues USC and Lane Kiffin

    Former USC Trojans' cornerback Brian Baucham is suing the university and ex-coach Lane Kiffin, according to an Associated Press report. In the September 2012 game, Brian Baucham collapsed during the second half and was taken to the hospital by an ambulance. Baucham hadn't played in USC's previous…

    SB Nation
  • Mark Cuban made comments about the NFL six months ago and he was right

    Peter King of Sports Illustrated looks back at the comments from Maverick owner Mark Cuban about the future of the NFL. ESPN's Marc Stein has a great write up about the premiere of the Berlin Tall's new movie.

    SB Nation
  • Rumor Roundup (Sept. 23, 2014): Sting, Austin Aries, Cesaro and the future of the Bellas

    Speculating on the rumors surrounding pro wrestling is a favored pastime of many fans, perhaps second only to actually watching the matches. In this daily column, we take a look at the latest rumors being churned out by the pro wrestling rumor mill. None of this has been confirmed as legitimate…

    SB Nation
  • Wayne Simmonds was ejected because his opponent was too slow

    Wayne Simmonds was kicked out of the third period against the Leafs on Monday night in the preseason opener. Korbinian Holzer of the Maple Leafs was really not alright with the above hit from Wayne Simmonds during the third period of the Flyers game against Toronto on Monday night. Simmonds gave…

    SB Nation
  • DeSean Jackson doesn't realize the Washington Redskins lost to the Eagles

    Apparently Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson did not realize his team lost to the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday. Yeah, Jackson scored, he taunted Eagles players and fans, and he got his 'revenge' on this play. Check the scoreboard, DeSean.

    SB Nation
    Sun, Sep 21
    Washington34 - 37Philadelphia
    Game Recap
  • Report: Steelers signing James Harrison after losing Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones

    In order to bolster their linebacking depth, the Pittsburgh Steelers are signing former NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a convincing 37-19 win over the Carolina Panther on Sunday, but it was costly. Jarvis Jones was placed on IR-Recall after suffering a…

    SB Nation
    Sun, Sep 21
    Tennessee7 - 33Cincinnati
    Game Recap
  • GIF: Brock Lesnar Curb Stomped by Seth Rollins at WWE Night of Champions 2014

    At some point or another it was decided that the finish to the Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena rematch at Night of Champions on Sept. 21, 2014, in Nashville, Tennessee would feature a run-in from Seth Rollins. It was also decided that Lesnar, vulnerable thanks to Cena spamming finishers for the last 10…

    SB Nation
  • Man Told to Sell Lamborghini Golf Cart or Lose Wife

    RELATED: See photos of another great Lamborghini from 1999 – the Diablo GTR The 36-volt Lamborghini golf cart comes fitted with leather seats, which he confirms he will be sure to fart on as much as possible, as well an auxiliary charger, spare seat, manual, spare parts, and a headrest, which he…

  • Gerald Wallace's contract is like a lottery ticket for the Boston Celtics

    Gerald Wallace was stoic last season. Wallace's three-year, $30.3 million contract was criticized by Celtics fans in a Bill Simmons piece published on Grantland. Eric in Springfield, Massachusetts: "Instead of a jersey number, could the Celtics convince Wallace to wear all the first-rounders we got…

    SB Nation
  • View

    Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti faces the media (11 photos)

    All of the parties involved in the Ray Rice elevator-assault scandal are being called to account for their actions, or inactions, and the Baltimore Ravens, Rice's now-former team, are now in the spotlight. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti held a press conference

    Yahoo Sports
    Sun, Sep 21
    Baltimore23 - 21Cleveland
    Game Recap
  • UPDATE 1-Tennis-Williams quits Wuhan event after illness

    * Top seed Williams quits in first set against Cornet * Second seed Halep loses in three sets to Muguruza (Updates after Williams retirement) Sept 23 (Reuters) - World number one Serena Williams withdrew from the Wuhan Open

  • Darnell Dockett has tickets for Cardinals fan getting in a brawl with 49ers fans

    Sunday was kind of a wild day at the 49ers-Cardinals game. Aside from just the loss, 49ers and Cardinals fans got into a nasty brawl in the stands. It's a really nasty fight, with quite a bit of blood on the ground as the fight wrapped up. It seemed

    SB Nation
  • Undertaker rumors of poor health seemingly debunked by his wife, Michelle McCool

    Over the weekend, a weird rumor started making the rounds that Undertaker is in poor health or bad shape or whatever other term you want to use to signify someone is not doing well physically. The source for this was, apparently, Limp Bizkit lead singer Fred Durst, who reportedly dedicated a song…

    SB Nation
  • The Big Ten's strengths, weaknesses and Michigan

    We're back with another week of Big Ten football and this time there are a few nice things to say! As a conference, the Big Ten had its best Saturday of the season three days ago. Trust me when I tell you this next statistic is not a typo, but every

    SB Nation
  • UFC on FOX 13: Joe Riggs, somehow, set to make return against Ben Saunders on Dec. 13 despite gun shot

    How's this possible? HOW'S THIS POSSIBLE? Less than six months after a horrific near-death experience, Joe Riggs plans to return to the Octagon to fight Ben Saunders in a Welterweight showdown planned for UFC on FOX 13 from U.S. Airways Center in

    SB Nation
  • View

    Photos of the day - September 21, 2014 (34 photos)

    The Independence Monument is silhouetted against fireworks during City Day celebrations in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Oakland Raiders linebacker Kaluka Maiava tackles New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman in the first half of an NFL game and a boy

    Yahoo News
    Sun, Sep 21
    Oakland9 - 16New England
    Game Recap
  • Gareth Bale kicks the ball at Luka Modric's face

    You know what hurts more than seeing Gareth Bale and Luka Modric scoring amazing goals and winning trophies like we always hoped they would do for Tottenham Hotspur? Watching them turn on each other. GARETH BALE KICKED THE BALL AT LUKA MODRIC'S

    SB Nation
  • Blake Griffin wasn't surprised by Donald Sterling's racist rant

    When Donald Sterling's racism scandal grabbed national attention during the first round of the NBA playoffs last spring, it put the coaches and players of the Los Angeles Clippers in an awkward position. With Sterling disgraced and not yet banned from the league, the team itself was forced to…

    Ball Don't Lie
  • AARP® Auto Insurance Program from The Hartford

    Over 50? Your driving experience could save you $404* on Auto Insurance.

    AdChoicesThe HartfordSponsored