The Rockets will play the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, which will mark the first time that James Harden will lace ’em up against the team he couldn’t come to terms with on a contract extension shortly before the start of the season.
As a result, OKC traded Harden to Houston, where he’s been mostly spectacular as the team’s number one offensive option, averaging just over 25 points per game on the season.
The Thunder had something special going with the young core of Harden, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook making their first trip to the Finals last season, but the organization decided to change that in favor of future financial flexibility.
There apparently are no hard feelings on Harden’s part, however, who says he’ll approach this game just like any other.
“I’m on the road trying to get a win,” Harden said Tuesday. “That’s no different than when we played at Memphis or Atlanta or whatever the case may be.”
He said he never expected to leave Oklahoma City …, but he refuses to consider the game special.
“To be honest, I don’t even know,” he said. “It will be good to see some faces, some old teammates and coaches. They’re all my family. I look forward to every single game I play. It’s just another game.”
Before we’re too quick to dismiss Harden’s comments as disingenuous athlete-speak, it’s worth noting the team has more important things on its mind.
The Rockets will be in Minnesota earlier in the day to support head coach Kevin McHale, whose 23-year-old daughter Sasha passed away over the weekend. They’ll attend the funeral, before heading into Oklahoma City later this afternoon.
The gravity of handling that situation, especially on a game day, will likely outweigh any lingering grudges in Harden’s mind.
Getting back to basketball, Harden honestly doesn’t have anything to be upset about. He received the max contract he believed he deserved in Houston, and is proving his worth as a starter, which is something he never would have gotten the opportunity to do in Oklahoma City.
Still, with all of that being said, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Harden bring a little extra something to the contest once he does step on the court to face his former team.
Watch Klay Thompson’s record 11 playoff three pointers
“Klay Thompson was ridiculous. His shooting was some of the most incredible shooting you will ever see.”
That was how Warrior coach Steve Kerr described Thompson’s night — a playoff record 11 three pointers on his way to 41 points, sparking Golden State’s Game 6 win on the road. It wasn’t just the threes, it was the degree of difficulty on some of those shots — he was just in the zone. Not the Blake Griffin commercial zone, the real one.
Klay Thompson shoots Warriors to comeback win in Oklahoma City, forces Game 7
In the most intense game of these playoffs, Golden State came from eight down to start the fourth quarter behind the red-hot shooting of Klay Thompson — he set an NBA record with 11 threes in a playoff game and had 19 points in the fourth quarter — as the Warriors outscored the Thunder 16-4 in the final 4:40 of the game. Thompson had help with the defense of Andre Iguodala making plays on both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, getting key steals and making plays down the stretch.
The result was a 108-101 Golden State win in Oklahoma City to even the series at 3-3 and force a Game 7 Monday night at Oracle Arena.
Which is just good for fans of basketball because this series has been thrilling.
It didn’t feel thrilling to OKC, this was a punch to the gut for the Thunder, who had a 13 point lead in the first half at seemed in complete control early of a game that could have sent them to the NBA Finals. However, as the game got tight late the Thunder reverted to bad habits — everyone standing around watching Durant and Westbrook go one-on-one. The result was the two Thunder stars combined for 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting with six turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, four turnovers in the final two minutes. For the game, the Thunder shot 13 percent from three.
Meanwhile, the Warriors’ Thompson wasn’t just making threes, he was making high degree of difficulty threes on his way to 41 points on the night.
“Klay Thompson was ridiculous,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “His shooting was some of the most incredible shooting you will ever see. I think he set a record for threes (he did), but our defense was fantastic. We kept getting stops, but we couldn’t get the board, but we stayed with it.”
Stephen Curry, who had struggled again in the first half and still doesn’t look 100 percent except in flashes, had one of those flashes in the fourth quarter — six points which included a dagger driving layup and the steal that sealed the win. He finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists on the night.
Curry and Thompson combined for 61 of the Warriors last 81 points in the game.
That finish was the opposite of how everything started for Golden State.
The Warriors opened the game 8-of-28 from the field and shot just 36 percent overall, plus had 10 turnovers in the first half. It was the Thunder defense that seemed to be back to form and under that pressure the Warriors reverted to some sloppy play — for example, Curry trying to make a playground pass to a shooter in the corner when a floater or layup was available (Kevin Durant stole that pass). Curry once again seemed hesitant early on in this game. Also, Steve Kerr oddly sat Thompson, Curry and Draymond Green all at the same time in the first half and that fueled a quick OKC run — and their building was rocking.
But they couldn’t sustain it.
“That hasn’t been us the last month and a half,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of his team’s performance in the fourth. “I thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch, and then I thought us defensively, we were a little bit late.”
For much of the game the Thunder played well — Steven Adams was a beast again, Serge Ibaka made plays — but they couldn’t put the Warriors away in the first half. Part of that was Durant, who started just 2-of-10 from the field and was shooting to quickly too often. He was 10-of-31 shooting for the game.
It was Westbrook who had the Thunder up by as many as 13 in the first half. Then Warriors got a few stops, and the three ball (Curry and Thompson were 6-of-12 from deep in the first half) kept it close, it was just a five-point game at the break, 53-48.
Thompson drained a couple of threes to open the second half and with that the game was close through the third, however, Curry started to find his groove and scored 11 straight for the Warriors at one point. The Thunder made a push at the end of the quarter — with Anthony Morrow and Enes Kanter on the court — and led by eight heading into the fourth.
It wasn’t enough. There was the long Curry three over Adams to make it a one-point game with four minutes left. Westbrook hit a couple of free throws but on the next Thunder possession Durant called for a clear out that the Warriors doubled, got the steal, then got the Curry three in transition to tie it with 2:47 left.
In the end, it was too much of the shooting magic that got the Warriors 73 wins. And they got the Game 7 they needed.
“I don’t think there can be any more pressure on us in Game 7 than there was tonight,” Kerr said.
Steven Adams gets his revenge, dunks all over Draymond Green (VIDEO)
Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson is a restricted free agent, and he is the kind of quality rotation player that teams with cash to burn may well try to poach. The Lakers have the right to match and likely will unless the offer is way over the top. But make no mistake, Clarkson will go with the team that offers him the most money.
That’s July, right now Clarkson is saying the right things about wanting to stay with the Lakers and play for new coach Luke Walton.
I want to stay in LA….I don’t really look at it as me being a free agent; I want to be here…
He (Luke) called me a few days after he got hired. We talked about the offensive system, what he sees in us young guys, where he sees the organization, the style we’re gonna play. I’m excited for him to come and work with us.
Most likely he gets a chance, the Lakers want to keep him. They see him as part of the future (or at least as an asset they can trade to get parts for their future). He’s saying all the right things to make Laker nation happy.
But it’s going to be about the money. It always is.