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epa03207618 Oklahoma City Thunder player James Harden (C) dunks the ball against the Dallas Mavericks in the second half of game four of the Western Conference Quarterfinal round game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, USA, 05 May 2012. The winner of the best-of-seven series will go on to face either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Semifinals. EPA/LARRY W. SMITH CORBIS OUT
LARRY W. SMITH STF
epa03207618 Oklahoma City Thunder player James Harden (C) dunks the ball against the Dallas Mavericks in the second half of game four of the Western Conference Quarterfinal round game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, USA, 05 May 2012. The winner of the best-of-seven series will go on to face either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Semifinals.  EPA/LARRY W. SMITH CORBIS OUT

James Harden inspires Oklahoma to end reign of Dallas in the NBA

Dallas Mavericks become first NBA champions since 2006 to be swept in first round of play-offs.

Oklahoma City kept picking and rolling, and James Harden kept making plays.

Instead of giving in and being content going home for a Game 5, the Thunder now are waiting for their next series. Oklahoma City rallied for a 103-97 victory on Saturday to complete a first-round series sweep of the defending NBA champions Dallas Mavericks.

Harden scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, including seven in a row and nine in the Thunder’s 12-0 run after they trailed by 13 points with 9mins 44secs left.

“I got into attack mode,” Harden said. “I was determined to make plays.”

After the Harden-fuelled surge over three minutes got the Thunder within a point, they finally took the lead – and kept it – when Russell Westbrook stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and passed to Serge Ibaka for a two-handed slam that made it 92-91.

“He beat us in individual drives, beat us in pick and rolls. He got up a head of steam and was great,” Rick Carlisle, the Dallas Mavericks coach, said of Harden.

“We tried everything, five or six different coverages going. We needed to be better but it was more about how good he was.”

Dallas are the second defending champion in five years to be swept in the first round. After beating the Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat lost in four games to Chicago Bulls the next year.

Kevin Durant had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Thunder, who will play the winner of the series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver. The Lakers lead that first-round series 2-1 going into Game 4 tonight in Denver.

“This goes without saying, I’m excited we won the series,” Scott Brooks, the Thunder coach, said. “James had an incredible game. We ran pick and rolls at the angles. He was making plays for himself or our shooters.”

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