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Three Stars of the Night: Harden’s Revenge Game

Feb 21, 2013, 2:30 AM EDT

James Harden AP

On a night where trade talk dominated the news, James Harden served up a reminder that there’s an awful lot that must be considered when making a deal. Who knows how much it mattered to Oklahoma City at the time, but trading James Harden to a perennially competitive Western Conference foe badly in need of such a player doesn’t seem exactly ideal right about now, does it? Instead of having to deal with him only twice a year, the Thunder very realistically could have to deal with Harden in a playoff series — now and down the road.

This was a revenge game at its best for Harden, but who will join him in the Three Stars? Let’s get right to it.

Third Star: Nikola Pekovic – (27 points, 18 rebounds, 2 blocks)

If you skipped Timberwolves-Sixers on the ol’ league pass, I don’t blame you. This was an ugly game where both teams shot below 40 percent, but it had a redeeming factor, and his name was Nikola Pekovic. In his typical bullying manner, Pekovic regularly thrusted his left shoulder directly into his opponent’s chest, knocking them back to create the space to let up his little right handed flips and hooks. Pekovic is a big from another era — plodding and mean, substituting strength for stretch. He’s a rarity nowadays, but like the sixth Rocky movie taught me, there’s no substitute for raw power.

Second Star: Kyrie Irving (35 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists)

This was a hot streak you could feel. When Irving checked in at the seven minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Cavs were down two against the Hornets. That didn’t last long. Irving absolutely dominated right away, tallying 20 points in seven minutes of nearly flawless basketball. You hear the Chris Paul comparisons with Irving, and the trait they similar is pretty unique. With the game on the line and defenses focused against them, Paul and Irving both have the rare ability to get uncontested layups. Not contested, falling away, difficult pull-up jumpers — layups. Irving did that twice down the stretch with some sick ballhandling, but he also stepped in to draw a charge and nabbed an offensive rebound. You knew this already, but let’s put this exhibit in the “Kyrie Irving is a star” file immediately.

First Star: James Harden (46 points on 19 shots, 8 rebounds, 6 assists)

This was absurd. The Rockets were down 12 in the fourth quarter at one point, then three minutes later, they were tied. Harden’s career-high 46 points came in every imaginable way — from behind the arc (7-for-8), from the line (11-for-12), in the pick-and-roll, transition — pretty much everywhere. Lin and Harden combined for 75 points against Oklahoma City and played huge roles in the comeback, knocking down momentum shifting shots time and time again. You couldn’t ask for a better, more timely, more efficient performance than the one Harden put on tonight. This was his best yet.

  1. saint1997 - Feb 21, 2013 at 2:44 AM

    Wow I really love all 3 of these players and they all represent bright futures at their positions. Will be eagerly watching to see if TWolves match the close to max deal Pek will no doubt get in the offseason

    • fmlizard - Feb 21, 2013 at 8:39 AM

      Wolves are in a weird spot where they have too much talent on the payroll to keep it all much longer, yet they are also awful.

  2. davidly - Feb 21, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    Harden demonstrated–albeit symbolically and indirectly–why Ok City isn’t gonna win it all this year, ie. name just one instance by which a team got to the finals and lost, let one of the key reasons they got there go in the off-season, and then returned the following year to win it all. You can’t. It doesn’t happen.

    It’s hard enough to let a key player walk when you do win the title and then repeat. Ask Dallas. It’s hard enough to get back to the finals with the same team that got you there. Ask LA.

    • musilly - Feb 21, 2013 at 8:00 AM

      Harden’s amazing, no doubt about it.

      But history doesn’t predict the future. History’s informative, but not predictive.

      You could put the point this way: name “just one instance” of a team with a silky smooth 6-10 forward that puts up points in his sleep. Durant’s pretty amazing too, and I wouldn’t bet against him.

      That said, my money’s still on the Heat.

      • musilly - Feb 21, 2013 at 8:01 AM

        (I’d only bet against Durant if he’s up against Lebron)

      • davidly - Feb 21, 2013 at 8:37 AM

        We’re talking likelihood here. Science is rooted in prediction based upon observation. Just because you cannot predict the future with perfect accuracy does not mean history is not predictive. The informative nature of history is what created the law of probability. The money you’re putting on the Heat is based on odds. Instructively, those odds fluctuated immediately with Harden’s departure from Ok City.

        And for the Thunder to have a chance to beat the Heat in the finals they have to win twelve games against increasingly tough competition just to get there. They’re gonna do that with a thinner squad? History says no. But clearly the Thunder front office is open to the silky smooth forward theory. The might wanna ask the Lakers about that.

    • deadeyedesign23 - Feb 21, 2013 at 8:54 AM

      Nothing makes me happier than watching that team that begged for the strict luxury tax, which acts as a defacto hard cap, suffer the consequences of it. I hope the second Russ and KD can go elsewhere they do too.

      It’s great that you drafted incredibly well…guess it’s too bad you couldn’t keep them all because you insisted on making labor subsidize small market teams. Otherwise you’d be able to just outspend your mistakes like paying Perkins.

  3. johnmindiola - Feb 21, 2013 at 4:10 AM

    Two lives have to Pek. If they don’t, they might be set back two more years. Again.

  4. yousuxxors - Feb 21, 2013 at 4:27 AM

    yea but that team didnt have KD… i still think they should of traded westbrooke.

  5. kb2408 - Feb 21, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    Remember when Portland had Clyde, Duckworth, Porter, etc.? How about when Sacramento had Bibby, C.Webb, Divac, etc.? Remember how those teams were supposed to win titles? That’s what this OKC team reminds me of. They should not have traded Harden under any circumstances. They should’ve traded Westbrook first. With all that talent a decent pg would’ve been enough. And get rid of Perkins, he’s terrible and vastly overrated as a defender.

  6. miamatt - Feb 21, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    Man, in seven years it’s gonna be Irving and Harden’s league, with LBJ filling the current-Kobe-Bryant role. No disrespect to KD, he’ll be in that group as well.

    I mean, damn, I really feel like we are in the early years of a golden age in the NBA.

  7. flyrocket31 - Feb 21, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    went to that game….Rockets game of the YEAR! man it was amazing to watch live!

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