Obviously, Thunder fans weren’t excited about Sunday’s outcome, but there were things to be encouraged about. Even excited about. One being the way James Harden played Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter.
If Harden is ready to play defense like that on a consistent basis, there’s no way you can possibly keep him out of the starting lineup, or at the least, from 30-plus minutes a night.
Clearly, Harden was not backing down from Kobe, even as Kobe tried to repeatedly back him down. Harden played Kobe physical, always keeping a hand or at least some part of his body on him. He stayed down on pump fakes, swiped at the ball and even got a little chippy with Kobe. I love it.
Harden has come a long, long way as a defender since last season. He’s becoming a lot more disciplined and is understanding help defense much better. He has terrific hands and is strong, long and athletic. There’s no reason he can’t be a stopper himself to go along with a solid offensive game.