The Oklahoma City Thunder got huge contributions from sixth man extraordinaire James Harden during the regular season and, unsurprisingly, the bearded wonder is now expect to be a big-time performer every time he steps on the court.
Unfortunately Harden has wilted under the pressure of the NBA Finals, though, and people are taking notice of the NBA's best bench player. And, after Harden made just two of his 10 attempts from the field on Sunday night as his team dropped a winnable game to the Miami Heat.
Harden's game probably wouldn't have been all that noticeable, but Scott Brooks clearly was counting on his offensive output to keep Oklahoma City in the game during a third quarter stretch that saw Kevin Durant (due to foul trouble) and Russell Westbrook spend time on the bench. The NBA's sixth man of the year was unable to pick up the slack, though, and a double-digit lead evaporated as quick as it came.
As a result, Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix prominently featured Harden in his post-game column ... and not in the good way, either.
Whither, James Harden? The NBA's reigning Sixth Man award winner struggled for the second time this series, scoring just nine points (on 2-of-10 shooting) while missing on all four of his three-point attempts. Derek Fisher (nine points) picked up some of the slack, chipping in with some intelligent defense. But Harden is a key cog in Oklahoma City's offensive system. When he is in the game, he is both playmaker and scorer, counted on to take some of the ball handling duties from Russell Westbrook as well as create space with his shooting.
Harden reportedly was not happy with how many minutes he played in Game 1; if there is any carryover from that issue, he must get past it, quickly, before Oklahoma City digs itself too deep a hole to climb out of.
Game 4 will be key and, if Harden really does have a gripe with his minutes in the Finals, that's a whole 'nother problem in and of itself.
For more on the game, stick with our 2012 NBA Finals, Game 3 StoryStream. For more on the Heat, head over to Peninsula is Mightier and SB Nation Tampa Bay. For more on the Thunder, check out Welcome To Loud City and SB Nation Kansas City.