How James Harden and Rockets denied OKC Thunder despite an off night offensively: 'Never let a hard time humble us'
James Harden turned to the sideline to let out a yell that was a long time coming.
He had just blocked Oklahoma City’s upstart rookie Lu Dort’s 3-pointer with less than 2 seconds remaining.
Harden — the Rockets’ star offensive player certainly not known for his defense — let out his frustrations of a tough night.
“Like (late rapper Nipsey) Hussle said: Never let a hard time humble us,” Harden said.
The Rockets ended the Thunder’s charmed season late Wednesday night with a 104-102 victory in Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, getting a reversal of roles from its two superstars.
Houston now faces the top-seeded Lakers, but with more confidence it can win in a variety of ways. Wednesday’s play from two former Thunder stars was proof.
Harden shined defensively more than offensively.
Russell Westbrook — rounding into form after a quadriceps injury — picked up the slack on offense for Harden.
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“Right now — Game 7s especially — it’s not about how good you play,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s how hard you play and how engaged you are, or the brains and the heart and not talent.”
Harden scored just 17 points making four of 15 field goals, including just one 3-pointer. He was hounded all night by Dort, who had a career night offensively too.
Robert Covington and Eric Gordon scored 21 points apiece. But as Harden struggled, it was Westbrook who often led behind his aggressiveness.
Westbrook scored 20 points, making nine of 20 shots and only attempting two 3-pointers. Most of his shots were driving layups. In the second half, he particularly got aggressive as Harden fell deeper into an offensive funk.
And he played 34 minutes, blowing past his minutes restriction.
“I’m just trying to get better rhythm,” Westbrook said. “I told myself coming into today I was going to be more aggressive at the basket. I have the ability to do what I want, and that’s what I was trying to do and make sure I keep the pressure off.”
But even with Westbrook and Co. stepping up, the Rockets still clung to a two-point lead in the final seconds.
Harden had two steals and two blocks. He was working to make up for his offensive struggles.
Then Dort — who scored 30 points to break Harden’s OKC rookie playoff record — took the winning shot. Harden flew in for the block and as Dort caught the rebound, Harden jumped out of the way of Dort’s desperation throw at his legs.
Replay later ruled Dort was out of bounds before the rebound.
It was still a dazzling display of defense for Harden, bucking his reputation as an offensive-only star.
“One of the top ones,” Harden said about where that play ranks in his career. “Definitely, because it’s cool to get 40 or 50 points or shooting the ball. Obviously, I want to do that, but just to get recognition and for it to pay off when it counts on the defensive end, it shows I’ve been engaged and locked in.
“For it to show in a clutch moment means a lot.”