December 13, 2010
The Oklahoma City Thunder are widely and rightfully identified as one of the NBA's two or three most exciting teams. But when you run through their roster, James Harden(notes) rarely pops up as a reason to watch. On a team full of luminous talents like Kevin Durant(notes) and Russell Westbrook(notes), Harden plays a more quiet style, often effective yet rarely loud. When he plays well, he blends in with the rest of the roster instead of standing out.
Perhaps this reputation is undeserved, because Sunday night he came through with one of the highlights of the season. With about a minute left in the first quarter of the Thunder's 106-77 evisceration of the Cavs, Harden pushed the ball on the break and found himself with a lane to the basket. Only J.J. Hickson(notes) stood in his way, and he was quickly rendered inconsequential.
There are a lot of dunks reported to be "on" other players, but rarely does a dunker meet his defender right at the rim when both are at the apex of their leaps. Hickson gave his best effort to get the block, but Harden just had too much power on the finish.
So while we praise Harden, let's also give some credit to Hickson. Most men would have shied away from the contact, yet he was willing to put his reputation on the line at a time when the Cavs already looked on their way to a blowout loss. He maintained his honor in defeat.