Much has been made of James Harden's defence over the years, but in Game 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he put the clamps on when it mattered most.
In the dying seconds of the game, with the Rockets up 103-102, Harden came up with the clutch block on Lu Dort's 3-point attempt to seal the win and their passage to the second round.
TAKEAWAYS: Harden's clutch bock seals Game 7 win for Rockets
Dort had been on fire in Game 7, knocking down six 3-pointers on his way to 30 points - joining LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as the only players under 21 to score 25+ points in a Game 7.
HARDEN STRAPS WITH THE GAME ON THE LINE pic.twitter.com/hJpINlvapk- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 3, 2020
Harden struggled offensively in Game 7, shooting just 4-of-15 from the field and 1-of-9 from beyond the arc for his 17 points, but he made his presence felt on the other side of the floor.
"I've been locked in all year long trying to be better on that side of the ball," Harden said post-game. "Tonight was a huge emphasis on it. Came up with the big block to win the game."
"Just trying to be engaged as much as possible. Offensively [I] had a rough shooting night, turned the ball over a little bit too much, but tried to find other ways to impact the game and came up with a huge block to end the game."
His running mate, Russell Westbrook, who scored 20 points in the 104-102 win over his former team, was quick to commend Harden's defensive effort, not just tonight, but in totality.
"James has been playing defence," Westbrook told reporters post-game.
"I think if media and people actually looked at the numbers since you guys like to look at numbers - look at them and you'll get your answers."
"He's improved, not just from me being here this year, but I've seen him improve on that side of things. I think it gets overlooked because he's such an exceptional offensive player."
The Rockets will need both harden and Westbrook firing on all cylinders - on both sides of the floor - with their reward for winning Game 7, a matchup against the No.1 seed Los Angeles Lakers.
Game 1 of their Western Conference Semi-final series tips off Saturday, September 5 at 6:30 a.m. IST.
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