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.”