OKLAHOMA CITY — James Harden was a forgotten man in first game of Oklahoma City’s first-round series with Denver.
The second-year pro out of Arizona State was a non-factor on the offensive end. It was not the performance the team’s third-leading scorer had expected to have in what had become his breakout season.
Knowing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook couldn’t carry the scoring load again by themselves, he came into Game 2 on a mission. He poured in 18 points Wednesday to help lead the Thunder to a 106-89 victory over the Nuggets at Oklahoma City Arena, and the home team took a 2-0 series advantage.
“We know he is going to make shots,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “That is what he does. He makes plays for us.”
Harden wasn’t the only Thunder player to have a bounce-back game. Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and the Oklahoma City bench showed Game 1 was already forgotten.
“They brought the energy that we needed,” Westbrook said. “They have been consistent all season long and I am never worried about them coming in and not producing. They did a good job of keeping the energy up tonight. “
The Thunder learned their lesson from Game 1. Instead of getting off to a slow start, they began the night hitting almost everything they tossed at the rim. They led 31-15 after 12 minutes of work.
“I just knew it was a bad start,” Denver coach George Karl said. “We gave them too many minutes, too many possessions. They were totally in control. They were energized, they were more physical, they were quicker and probably smarter.”
It was in the second period that Harden started to find his stroke. He scored 10 points in the period and led all scorers with 14 at halftime.
“Last game, first half I only had one shot attempt,” Harden said. “In the second half I had some wide open threes that I usually knock down. So I was just trying to tweak my shot a little bit just to make sure it’s right and come out and be aggressive. Played the same way.”
Oklahoma built its lead up to 26 points during the third quarter.
Despite how well the Oklahoma had been playing, with 8:32 left in the fourth quarter they led by only 10 points. Led by their backcourt, the Nuggets kept fighting back and not letting the game get out of hand.
“We knew they were a great team. They were going to make runs,” Harden said. “They have so many great scorers over there. We just had to keep our composure, get great shot and really help each other on the defensive end. Towards the end of the fourth quarter, we really did that.”
Though the Thunder had cooled off from the field, they didn’t stop crashing the backboards. Led by Perkins and Ibaka, Oklahoma City hauled in 54 rebounds to the Nugget’s 31.
It was especially on the offensive glass that Perkins attitude and intensity showed itself. And after getting worn out by the Denver front-line in Game 1, Perkins had his way this time around with six offensive rebounds to go with 7 points.
“He is intense,” Brooks said. “He does it in practice. He does during shoot-around, he does during games. That’s who he is. I’m sure when he takes his kids to school he has an attitude. He is just a physical guy. He loves to compete. We don’t look at how many points he gets. He just brings toughness to our team.”
Durant led all scorers with 23 points, five assists and five rebounds. Westbrook added 21 points and seven assists.
Ty Lawson paced Denver with 20 points while Wilson Chandler and Raymond Felton each posted 16.
The Thunder travel to Denver for a Saturday matchup where the Nuggets will try and make this a series. The Thunder don’t want the series to come back home.
“Overall, we can lose it if we come out with the wrong mindset,” Durant said. “I do not worry about that though. The coaches do a great job and we go out and play hard. I feel like if that all goes the same way, then we have a chance to win.”
Michael Kinney 366-3537 firstname.lastname@example.org