May 5, 2012, 11:12 PM EDT
I’d say that the torch in the West has been passed, but that’s not what it felt like.
It felt like James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder grabbed the torch and ran off with it.
Harden scored seven in a row — and had 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter — to spark the Thunder as they came from 13 points back in the fourth quarter to sweep the defending champions Mavericks out of the playoffs, winning Game 4 103-97.
Harden is the guy the Thunder want to have the ball late in games because he makes plays — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook fall into hero ball when given the ball late, Harden looks to make plays. Oh, he can score, but he will just as likely set up others. He sparks the Thunder. He sparked this comeback.
If you’re just noticing that now, you seeing what other GMs have been noticing for a couple years — there are a lot of teams that covet him. Doesn’t matter, the Thunder are not letting him go.
For Dallas, this outcome was really decided last summer when Mark Cuban decided not bring Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler back — he rolled the dice on this season to set up the room to offer a max deal to Deron Williams this summer. They had hoped Lamar Odom could fill in that gap, but he couldn’t. That lack of depth showed during the comeback — Dirk Nowitizki had 34 but he did not have enough help anymore. The Mavs put up a fight, but they no longer had the horses.
But it was not all Dallas — Oklahoma City has grown as a team and were far the best side in this series. They have grown and evolved at both ends of the floor, and sent a message with this sweep that they are the team to beat in the West. They have the best scorer in the league — Durant had 24 points and 11 rebounds in this one. They have Westbrook’s speed and scoring. They have Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka in the paint.
And they have Harden coming off the bench. Dallas couldn’t match him. And they are gone because of it.
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