Oklahoma City Thunder: All Eyes on James Harden

Rob MahoneyNBA Lead WriterJune 19, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 17:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands on court with his head down in the second half against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 17, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.  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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For a moment, look past LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook. Those four players have provided a bulk of the production in these NBA Finals, and if any kind of logical precedent holds over the remainder of this series, they'll stand as the most accomplished performers in this particular best-of-seven affair.

But James Harden—shot-creator extraordinaire—has yet to register; the Heat have largely phased out one of the Thunder's most important players, and though that hasn't stopped Oklahoma City from remaining competitive in every game of the series, it's a big part of the reason why the Thunder's vaunted offense has been left treading water at times.

There's no unique reason to believe that Harden will have a breakout performance in Game 4, aside from the fact that he's too good a player to be held down over the course of an entire series. And should the Thunder pull their third star back into something resembling his usual form, they have the potential to redirect the energy of this series.

The Heat's defense has reduced an incredible number of Thunder possessions to a grind, and though OKC's stars remain excellent shot creators even under duress, the pressure loaded on Durant and Westbrook has necessitated a more inspired showing from Harden than what we've seen over the first three games. 

Harden may have had 21 tidy points (on 11 shots) in Game 2, but he conspicuously vanished in Game 3 and failed to contribute much in Game 1. Defending the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade has clearly sapped some of Harden's energy, but the Thunder's third fiddle should at least have some capacity to work as an off-the-ball threat.

We have to believe—after all of his sensationally efficient performances to date—that there's more to Harden than this, and that he can't be wiped away by a bit of exertion and some defensive pressure. He's overdue to be Harden again, and the Thunder are banking on his return to form.