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Thunder journal: James Harden scores 39 points, but OKC defense forces 17 misses in narrow win

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Houston's James Harden (13) looks to get by Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) during the Thunder's 112-111 win Tuesday. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]
Houston's James Harden (13) looks to get by Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) during the Thunder's 112-111 win Tuesday. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

Thunder forward Jerami Grant punched the ball out of Houston guard James Harden’s hands as they raced down the court. Harden spilled onto the floor, and the crowd cheered.

OKC guard Russell Westbrook grabbed the loose ball with a smile on his face and took off in the opposite direction.

In the Thunder’s 112-111 win over the Rockets on Tuesday, Harden scored 39 points, but he shot just 11-of-28 from the field. The Thunder shared the responsibility of guarding the MVP candidate, but Grant was consistently able to disrupt Harden’s rhythm.

Grant's steal in the third quarter led to a transition 3-pointer by Terrance Ferguson.

“I think by getting his hands back,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “he’s got really good length at the basket, so I think when he starts to drive Jerami, and Jerami can still stay in position, his length and his athleticism gets his shot-blocking into play. And probably playing against him and being in those situations the last couple years he’s got an idea of what to do and what not do.”

Harden made just one of his first four shots of the game. Grant, Paul George and Russell Westbrook all had their chances to match up one-on-one on Harden in the first six minutes.

When Harden drove to the basket with Grant guarding him, Grant shuffled in front of him all the way to the hoop, and Harden missed the layup.

“Just getting to the ball,” Grant said of his focus. “Just trying to throw his rhythm off, make him drive, don’t let him shoot any open 3s.”

With about three minutes left in the first quarter, Grant faced Harden at the 3-point line. Grant's shoulders twitched slightly to his right as Harden jab-stepped that way, but his feet remained set.

Harden pulled the ball back to the other side and then tried again. Yet again, Grant fought the temptation to bite on the fake. Harden tired a third time before passing the ball.

Grant also made two three-pointers in the first half, but he finished the night shooting just 3-of-10 from the field.

Ferguson flashes

Westbrook got the ball in Ferguson’s hands early for a jump shot and layup in the first three minutes of the game.

Getting Ferguson involved from the get-go paid off in the next period, when Ferguson drained a 3-pointer and made a 3-point play on consecutive possessions to cut the Rockets’ lead to five points with about four minutes left in the first half. He finished the night with 16 points.

Bucks shorthanded

The Bucks listed Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez as out for Wednesday’s game against the Thunder due to load management. Antetokounmpo and Harden are the favorites in the MVP race, and Lopez is averaging 12.5 pints and 4.9 rebounds per game for the Bucks. Milwaukee clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last week.

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma City's Terrance Ferguson celebrates a basket during Tuesday night's game against the Houston Rrockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena. For coverage of the game, go to oklahomansports.com/sportspage. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma City's Terrance Ferguson celebrates a basket during Tuesday night's game against the Houston Rrockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena. For coverage of the game, go to oklahomansports.com/sportspage. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-490256c84ed8426a48e1d1ce3bf4f0a8.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Terrance Ferguson celebrates a basket during Tuesday night's game against the Houston Rrockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena. For coverage of the game, go to oklahomansports.com/sportspage. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City's Terrance Ferguson celebrates a basket during Tuesday night's game against the Houston Rrockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena. For coverage of the game, go to oklahomansports.com/sportspage. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City's Terrance Ferguson celebrates a basket during Tuesday night's game against the Houston Rrockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena. For coverage of the game, go to oklahomansports.com/sportspage. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-n_389258dc2b7fb35e7b18825a46fa7969.jpg" alt="Photo - Houston's James Harden (13) looks to get by Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) during the Thunder's 112-111 win Tuesday. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Houston's James Harden (13) looks to get by Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) during the Thunder's 112-111 win Tuesday. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Houston's James Harden (13) looks to get by Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) during the Thunder's 112-111 win Tuesday. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Maddie Lee

Maddie Lee followed an NBA team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, she just took a 10-year detour in between. Lee joined the Oklahoman in October 2018 as a Thunder beat writer, fresh off a stint in Oxford, Miss., where she covered Ole Miss for the... Read more ›

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