Behind Harden And Mullens, Thunder Complete Big Comeback Over Celtics, 87-82

The first two games of the Orlando Pro Summer League featured comebacks that never amounted to anything, but the Oklahoma City Thunder broke through today against the Boston Celtics, erasing a 21-point first half deficit with some impressive work at both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter, escaping with a 87-82 win. Second-year men James Harden and Byron Mullens led the charge, scoring 37 of their 43 combined points in the second half. Harden couldn’t find the range from the outside in the first half, so he added more drives to his shot mix in the second, which paid off; a foul-drawing machine, he shot 11-of-16 from the stripe after intermission. He also recorded a clutch blocked shot, cleanly swatting JayCee Caroll’s attempt at a game-tying three-pointer with just under 15 seconds to play. An impressive turnaround for an impressive player, whose well-rounded game made him the third pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.

Boston can’t feel good about the loss, but the play of second-round draft choice Luke Harangody should be encouraging. Harangody isn’t a lock to make the final team, but his outside shot—no matter how unconventional—could make him indispensable. He shot 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and led Boston with 23 points, but his defense is so suspect that the Celtics were rotating him in and out of the game in late offense/defense substitutions.

Harden stole the show, but Mullens made an impression as well. Though he has a slight build, Mullens isn’t afraid to mix it up inside under the boards. He has a solid shooting stroke for a big man, and range out to around 19 fee. What made him especially important in this game was his ability to finish in traffic, however. In the second half, he was more active on the weak side and on his rolls to the hoop, and to their credit, his teammates looked for him more actively. He appeared in just 13 games as a rookie, but could crack the rotation this year as long as he continues to bulk up and refine his work with his back to the basket.

Oliver Lafayette shot 6-of-10 from the floor and scored 14 points for Boston, while Ryan Thompson (the kid brother of Sacramento Kings forward Jason Thompson) poured in 13 on 9-of-9 foul shooting off the bench. Oklahoma City point guard Eric Maynor had a sneakily effective game, with 15 points, 3 boards, and 5 assists with just 1 turnover.

ESPN’s David Thorpe astutely pointed out that the Thunder’s starting five are “all roster guys.” That they fell behind to the less talented Celtics is surprising.

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