Saying James Harden likes to party is hardly an earth-shattering assertion. He missed the start of Houston Rockets training camp because he was partying with rapper and songwriter Lil Baby. However, Kendrick Perkins hinted that The Beard’s love for the nightlife cost the Oklahoma City Thunder a chance at a championship in the 2012 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.
The Heat defeated the Thunder in five games in the 2012 Finals, but the series was closer than most remember
At first glance, the “Big Three” Miami Heat appeared to walk right over a young and hungry Oklahoma City Thunder team in the 2012 NBA Finals. Miami won the series in five games, giving LeBron James the first championship of his career.
However, the series was much closer than most basketball fans likely remember.
The Thunder actually took Game 1 in Oklahoma City behind 36 points from Kevin Durant and a stellar all-around performance by Russell Westbrook. They fell behind early in Game 2 but clawed back to within two points in the final minute. Durant had a chance to tie the game, but his effort fell short, and the Heat tied the series.
Kendrick Perkins did his best to boost OKC as the series shifted to South Beach, scoring 10 points and adding 12 rebounds in Game 3. But the Heat took control of the series with a lockdown defensive performance, though the Thunder were in the thick of it until scoring just 18 points in the fourth quarter.
Game 4 was a turning point. The Thunder raced out to a 14-point lead in the first quarter. However, Miami outscored OKC 60-42 in the next two quarters and kept the Thunder at bay in the final period. Oklahoma City could have evened the series. Instead, the Heat established a 3-1 stranglehold and wrapped up the series with a blowout win in Game 5.
Perkins believes the young Thunder were influenced by the allure of South Beach when the series went to Miami, especially James Harden.
Kendrick Perkins said James Harden “disappeared” in Miami
James Harden was an absolutely vital member of the 2011-2012 Thunder.
The Beard, in his age-22 season, developed a reputation as one of the most impressive youngsters in the NBA. Harden averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists off the bench for the Thunder, capturing the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in the process.
The Thunder desperately needed Harden to provide shooting and playmaking off the bench against a loaded Heat squad. But Kendrick Perkins hinted on the Forgotten Seasons podcast that the former Arizona State star got distracted when the series moved from OKC to Miami.
How valid is Perkins’ claim? That’s a bit tough to assess.
James Harden’s stats were terrific during a first-round sweep of the Dallas Mavericks. He averaged 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.5 steals on over 50% shooting. But he struggled during the conference semifinals against the Lakers, shooting just 35.8% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc.
The Beard rebounded in the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while shooting a whopping 60.9% from deep. However, he stumbled against the Heat, posting just 12.4 points per contest and shooting below 40% from the field.
It’s difficult to say there’s a strict correlation between Harden’s performance and the location of the Finals. On the one hand, he shot a combined 4-of-20 during the first two games in Miami. Yet, it’s important to note that he wasn’t much of a factor in Game 1 in OKC, shooting just 2-of-6 and playing just over 22 minutes. Plus, Harden scored 19 points in a must-win Game 5, while Westbrook shot just 4-of-20 from the field.
Did being in South Beach get to Harden? Or is it possible that the Thunder were just too young to beat the Heat?
Chalk it up to inexperience
What gets lost in Kendrick Perkins’ assertion is just how inexperienced that Thunder team was.
Oklahoma City had its share of valuable vets. Nick Collison was the franchise staple and holdover from the Seattle SuperSonics days. Both Perkins and Derek Fisher had been to the Finals, so they understood what it took to win on the biggest stage.
Yet, the Thunder were ultimately reliant on the trio of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden to outperform LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. That’s a lot to ask.
Additionally, if it is indeed true that South Beach became a distraction for someone like Harden, shouldn’t the onus partly have been on Perkins and others to reel him in and keep him focused?
Sure, The Beard’s love for partying has grown abundantly more evident throughout the years. That said, pinning James Harden’s poor stats in the 2012 Finals on the distractions in Miami seems like a reach, particularly considering the opponent and youth aspect.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.