Reporting Tim Kephart
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OKLAHOMA CITY (CBSMiami) – The headlines leading into the NBA Finals have been about the matchup of the two best players in the game, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Miami’s LeBron James.
But it’s another player on the Oklahoma City Thunder who could turn out to be the great equalizer against the Heat.
Oklahoma City guard James Harden has been a steadying presence for the Thunder and has delivered in the clutch when the Thunder needed the big shot to go down, not to mention having an epic beard.
Harden has averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game for the Thunder in the playoffs after 16.8 points per game during the regular season. Harden averaged nearly 19 points per game for the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
Harden averaged playing 32 minutes per game in the conference finals and shot 61 percent from behind the three-point line against the always tough San Antonio Spurs. Harden’s biggest shot in the series was a game clinching three-pointer in Game 5.
Harden’s size makes him a matchup problem for the Heat. He stands 6’5”, which is taller than the Heat’s guards, but he may be too fast for the Heat’s forwards to stay in front of him. The job may fall on Dwyane Wade to guard him when he’s in the game.
But, if Wade is guarding him and Westbrook is in the game, it creates a matchup problem unless Durant is out of the game for the Thunder and LeBron can guard Russell Westbrook.
Harden’s three-point shooting and his ability to come off the bench will mean the Heat will have to be able to shift their in a hurry to compensate for him and not leave him open if Durant or Westbrook is penetrating.
In some ways, the Thunder mirror the Heat’s matchup nightmare for opponents. But, the Thunder has not played a team as athletic as the Heat in the playoffs.
If Miami comes in focused and ready to play defense, the Thunder are going to have quite a task in front of them. Conversely, if Miami isn’t focused defensively, Oklahoma City has the ability to break the game open in a hurry.
Miami will keep an eye on Harden throughout the series to make sure he doesn’t start shooting bombs away from three-point land to help power the Thunder’s roster.