NBA Playoffs 2012: James Harden and Players Who Must Step Up for Thunder

Austin GreenCorrespondent IJune 18, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 14:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder calls out in the first half with the ball against the Miami Heat in Game Two of the 2012 NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 14, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook need help, and not just with their postgame fashion choices.

The two 23-year-olds are insanely talented, but their individual brilliance will not be enough to dig the Oklahoma City Thunder out of their 2-1 hole against the Miami Heat.

The Thunder blazed through the Western Conference playoffs and took Game 1 of the NBA Finals because of strong performances from their role players.

Sure, it helped that Durant and Westbrook caught fire like NBA Jam characters, but without their less-heralded players stepping up, Durant and Westbrook would be watching the Finals from their couches.

Unfortunately, those same role players that were so clutch in the previous series have been disappointing on basketball's biggest stage. If the Thunder want to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy this June, they'll need the following players to deliver strong performances.

 

James Harden

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 14:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes up for a shot between LeBron James #6 and Udonis Haslem #40 of the Miami Heat in the second half in Game Two of the 2012 NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 14, 201
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The beard hasn't been so fearful in the Finals, as Harden is averaging just 11.6 points per game on 40.7 percent shooting. For a man who morphed into one of the league's most dangerous offensive weapons this season, that type of production—or lack thereof—is unacceptable.

For the Thunder to win Game 4 and even the series, they need the James Harden that donned the executioner's mask against the Mavericks, not the one who shot 2-of-10 from the field on Sunday.

 

Serge Ibaka

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 14:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat and Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder battle for position in the second quarter in Game Two of the 2012 NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 14, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Okla
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ibaka has a well-deserved reputation as a defensive force, but it's his offense that will ultimately be the deciding factor in this series.

When Ibaka is active on the offensive glass, running the break and aggressively attacking the rim, his confidence soars. And when he's confident, his midrange jumper starts falling, which means the other team might as well just go home.

Ibaka turned the tide of the San Antonio series by scoring 26 points in Game 4. And while nobody's asking him to go 11-for-11 from the field again, he must bring that same confidence and aggression against Miami.

The Thunder are unstoppable when Ibaka is at his best. If he can throw down a couple nasty dunks and drain a few 15-foot jumpers, he will give his team a huge boost in Game 4 and beyond. 

 

Nick Collison

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 12:  Nick Collison #4 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes up for a layup in front of Shane Battier #31 of the Miami Heat in the second half in Game One of the 2012 NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 12, 2012 in Oklahoma C
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Collison was the unsung hero of Game 1, putting up eight points (on 80 percent shooting) and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes.

It was the perfect performance from a backup big man. He was energetic yet efficient, aggressive yet completely under control.

He scrapped on the boards, played sound fundamental defense and used his high basketball IQ to find gaps in the defense. He made himself available offensively, and when he got the ball, he was decisive.

Unfortunately, Collison has averaged just 14 minutes in the last two games. Hopefully Scott Brooks will give the big man more playing time going forward, as he often looks better suited for this series than Kendrick Perkins.

If Collison gets a little more time on the floor and makes the most of his minutes, the Thunder will have a great chance at winning Game 4 and, ultimately, the series.