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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.

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