“It’s cool to get 40 or 50 points or to be shooting the ball extremely well. Obviously, we all want to do that,” James Harden said. “But just to get recognition and for it to pay off when it counts on the defensive end, it shows I can engage and lock in. To show that in a clutch moment means a lot.”
A clutch moment indeed. It was the Game 7 matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. The score couldn’t have been closer; 102-103, with Rockets up by 1 point. Harden, who is typically a scoring magician was not having a great night offensively. With 5 seconds on the clock he was a defensive machine. He started right under the rim guarding Steven Adams so no easy layup attempts could be made. Then, out of the corner of his eye he saw a wide open Luguentz Dort nab a pass and as he raised up for a game winning 3-point attempt, Harden came flying in on his left side to block it. Harden’s block sent the ball vertical and Dort grabbed it midair and pivoted towards Harden. In a last ditch effort to get possession of the ball for another chance, Dort tried to throw the ball at Harden’s legs so it would go out of bounds. Harden, privy to this tactic, remained in a defensive stance with his arms raised and jumped into the air to avoid contact with the ball. And just like that, Harden’s defensive efforts, which included the best jumping jack of his life, sealed the Rockets series win.
The Rockets then moved on to the Western conference semifinal matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. What the Lakers have over the Rockets is size but that did not stop the defensive efforts in game 1 that resulted in a win. PJ Tucker disrupted the Laker offensive flow consistently and the Rockets appeared to be in great communication and were operating at a high speed. Not to be outdone, LeBron James and the Lakers came storming back to tie up the series in game 2. The semifinals are in full swing and the winner of this series will go on to face either the Los Angeles Clippers or the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.