NBA groups defend James Harden like he is enjoying a wholly completely different sport. Yearly brings a brand new gimmick. This season gave us the traditional “what if we double-teamed him the second he crosses half-court?”

Final yr, the Utah Jazz had been so frightened of his step-back jumper that they’d Ricky Rubio stand behind him simply to take it away. 

Oklahoma Metropolis scoffs at these doomed gambits. Solely two days after Harden roasted them for 37 factors on 12-of-22 capturing, the Thunder made the daring determination to place Luguentz Dort on him. Alone. No traps. No gimmicks. Simply Dort, all by his lonesome, tasked with enjoying the iceberg to Harden’s Titanic. 

That does not even do Dort’s inexperience justice. Thursday was the thirty seventh NBA sport he ever participated in. He could not legally drink till after the season was suspended in March. He has barely performed extra minutes in his profession than Harden averages in a month. However it labored. Regardless of the loss, Dort locked Harden down for the overwhelming majority of the sport. Late within the fourth quarter, Oklahoma Metropolis’s determined comeback bid required offense-centric lineups. When Dort left the courtroom for the ultimate time, Harden had simply 12 factors on 2-of-13 capturing. Instantly afterward, Harden padded his numbers with 9 fast factors. He did not miss a shot after Dort left the sport. He barely made any with Dort hounding him. That vaunted step-back jumper? Dort contested it. 

Sure, there will likely be constructive regression. Harden makes loads of contested photographs. That is what MVPs do. However what stands out are the photographs Harden did not take. With Russell Westbrook out, Houston’s overwhelming capturing components the lane just like the purple sea. He ought to be capable of drive at will. However he solely took 5 2-pointers in all the sport, considered one of which got here after Dort’s elimination. That ought to shock no person that watched Dort all yr. He is constructed like an precise iceberg, totally immovable. Harden barely tried to drive. The outcomes when he did had been hardly ever constructive. Watch Dort power the kick out right here…

On different events, Harden would strive the drive, get denied, after which surrender on the possession. 

After which there have been the performs the Dort blew up solely. On this drive, he not solely defends Harden however will get the block off of his move. 

On this possession, he begins on Harden, switches onto Danuel Home, goes again to contest Harden on the basket, after which races out behind the arc to contest Ben McLemore. 

Houston tried desperately to make use of these screens to free Harden from Dort’s grip. They hardly ever labored as a result of Dort did not permit them to work. He navigated the ground as if handcuffed to Harden. 

Even when a display screen separated him from his mark for a second, he hunted him down like a terminator. 

Finally this is not going to swing the collection. Westbrook goes to return. Harden goes to search out his factors. The Thunder are already in a 2-0 gap. Oklahoma Metropolis’s season is probably going going to finish in per week or so. 

However Dort’s future as an All-Protection-caliber stopper? That is simply getting began. Oklahoma Metropolis locked Dort right into a now-unfathomable four-year, $5.4 million contract through the hiatus. In all chance, he’s going to be their beginning capturing guard throughout that deal, and he will get higher with expertise. Usually, a participant’s greatest protection would not come of their first 1,000 minutes of NBA expertise. 

That is what’s so tantalizing right here. Two weeks in the past, Dort stonewalled LeBron James in a blowout. His Thunder could have misplaced this sport, however he took on arguably probably the most troublesome defensive project within the NBA and acquitted himself splendidly. Most rookies are horrible on protection, however he is executed issues as a 21-year-old that almost all veterans by no means even method. If that is what he can do on protection now, simply think about what he will be when the Thunder are able to contend for actual in a couple of years. 

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