Harden scored a career-high 26 points to complement Durant’s 28, and the Oklahoma City Thunder capitalized on a brief blowup by Golden State’s Corey Maggette(notes) to pull away from the Warriors for a 104-88 victory on Monday night.
“That’s what Sixth Men of the Year do, come off the bench and give us a spark like he did,” Durant said. “If that’s going to be his role for us this year, then that’s what he needs to do every game.
“We’re comfortable with him coming in and being aggressive like that and giving us that scoring punch. For us to win, that’s what he’s got to continue to do.”
Harden, who hadn’t attempted more than six free throws in any of his first 19 career games, was 10 for 10 at the line in his first 11 minutes on the floor and finished 13 for 14.
“He was just being aggressive,” Durant said. “That’s one thing I always tell him. Sometimes he’s a little too passive when he has opportunities to drive or score. He’s getting used to it, he’s getting more comfortable and he did a great job for us tonight.”
Harden, the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, said it took some time after moving to the NBA for him to learn the best times for him to be aggressive. He had a stretch of five straight games scoring in double figures earlier this season—including back-to-back games with 24 and 25 points— before being held to single digits in his last three games.
“I’m getting a little bit more comfortable out there, especially playing with those other guys. They make me feel comfortable to where I can just go out there and play basketball,” Harden said.
Even with Harden’s production, the short-handed Warriors—who were without seven players—were able to keep pace with the Thunder until Maggette was ejected with 4:07 left in the third quarter for arguing with official Derek Richardson.
Oklahoma City led 63-62 when Maggette drew two technical fouls. Durant hit both free throws that followed, and Russell Westbrook(notes) added two more from the initial foul against Maggette. Between Maggette’s ejection and the end of the third quarter, the Thunder outscored Golden State 16-5 to take control.
“The tempo was perfect in the first half because we kept the crowd out, we were able to get to the foul line. (Maggette) was a big part of that,” said Warriors assistant Keith Smart, filling in for head coach Don Nelson while he recovers from pneumonia. “As we moved through the second half, we didn’t have that.”
“We ask him to guard the best player, play 45 or 48 minutes and then also attack offensively against teams that are trapping him,” Smart said. “We’ve got to address that a little bit, and get somebody else playing well enough. And I think we had that going with Maggette. But losing him, you really had nothing that you could probably do.
“We weren’t making shots and we didn’t have anyone we could go to to post up and give us some control game.”
Nelson is expected to miss the remaining four games on Golden State’s five-game trip after team doctors advised him to stay home and recuperate. He had returned to the bench for two games after missing five in a row.
Jeff Green(notes) had 21 points and 13 rebounds for Oklahoma City, which went 3-2 during its longest stretch of home games this season. Westbrook added 12 points. The Thunder outrebounded Golden State 57-37.
Ellis had nine early points as Golden State rushed out to a 21-12 lead before Oklahoma City went on a 12-2 spurt to regain the lead in the opening minute of the second quarter. Ellis and Corey Maggette led the way as the Warriors answered immediately with a 10-0 run, but Harden had seven points in a 14-0 response by the Thunder that Green capped with a tip-in of Durant’s miss for a 41-35 lead.
The Thunder answered with another 10-0 run after Golden State took a 51-50 lead on Ellis’ two free throws 19 seconds after halftime. The Warriors made one last charge with eight straight points to tie it at 62.
NOTES: Warriors G Anthony Morrow(notes) missed his second straight game due to a death in his family. … NBA Hall of Famer George Gervin watched from a front row seat. … Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks could relate to Smart’s tough spot filling in for Nelson. He was 0-4 as a substitute for Nuggets coach George Karl and 2-0 in former Kings coach Eric Musselman’s place when he was an assistant coach. “The challenge is you can’t really do anything that you want to put in, because it’s not your team,” Brooks said. “You’re the substitute teacher and you have to stick with the philosophy of the head coach.”