OKLAHOMA CITY – Like the Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder have three stars. And as a group, they might be more potent offensively than the Heat’s trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Yet, in decisive moments in the regular season, one of the Thunder’s three stars was largely ignored.
James Harden played nearly as many “clutch-time” minutes as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the regular season, but didn’t get nearly as many shots in those minutes. While Durant and Westbrook combined to attempt 208 shots from the field in regular season clutch time, Harden attempted just 11.
Thunder clutch-time shooting, regular season
Clutch time = last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less.
Things have changed in the playoffs. Harden had a breakthrough in Game 4 of the first round in Dallas, scoring 15 fourth-quarter points as the Thunder turned a 13-point deficit into a six-point, series-clinching victory. Six of those 15 points (2-for-4 from the field, 2-for-2 from the line) came within the clutch-time parameters.
Overall in the postseason, Harden has as many clutch-time shots as he did in the regular season. And with 10 trips to the line and four assists, he actually has a higher clutch-time usage rate than Westbrook.
Thunder clutch-time shooting, playoffs
Harden credits his teammates for his increased attempts down the stretch of close games.
“I think it’s a trust factor,” Harden said Monday. “It’s grown and my teammates have a lot of confidence in me to go out there and make plays, not only for myself, but for them as well.”
And obviously, if the Thunder have three late-game threats instead of just two, their offense is that much tougher to stop. The Thunder have scored 120 points per 100 possessions in postseason clutch time, up from 106 in the regular season.
“It’s a big plus for us to have, not just a third guy that can statistically put up big numbers, but a third guy that is truly a dynamic playmaker, either for himself or for other people,” Derek Fisher said. “I think we’ve just been reading situations and reading the game.”