Entering tonight’s homecoming for James Harden, the big question was how the home fans would respond. Would they boo? Would they cheer? These are the stupid things we all care about.
But in the end, it was obvious: They were a whole lot more cordial and friendly than the Thunder were.
All that talk of this being any old game and No. 13 in red being just your usual opposing player? Yeah, right. The Thunder swarmed him, frustrated him, and completely locked down on him. Part of that is probably coincidental seeing as Harden is by far the best player Houston’s got. But there was a little extra motivation there too.
“Pride gets in and definitely you don’t want to be the one where he scored 30 against you,” Thabo Sefolosha said. “So definitely.”
Harden didn’t score 30. Didn’t score 20 either. He got 17, but it came on a miserable 3-of-16 shooting night that didn’t see him hit his first bucket until the second half.
It was certainly awkward seeing that beard in Rocket red. But it didn’t take long to get past it all. The Thunder crowd responded appropriately to Harden’s introduction — a hearty ovation — but didn’t give him any special treatment as the game went on. After Harden got into it with Hasheem Thabeet in the second quarter leading to an ejection and then un-ejection of Thabeet, Harden was booed lustily on the free throw line. The message was clear: We used to be friends, but not when you’re playing against us.
“I knew that they would cheer. We’ve got great fans They’re very respectful and classy and did the right thing, cheer him on,” said Scott Brooks. “But once the game started it was us versus them. Our fans have the same mentality we have: We’re respectful, we compete fairly, we compete aggressively. But we’re not here to make friends with our opponent.”
This idea that this game didn’t have more in it was crazy. The Thunder very obviously not only wanted to beat the Rockets, they wanted to do it in style. A couple statement plays: Westbrook’s block of Harden, Ibaka’s two possessions later and then Durant’s and-1 3 right in Harden’s face where he punctuated it by doing Harden’s “3s down” move. A little message sent there?
“Paying homage to the guys that we used to have here,” KD said. “I wasn’t talking trash man. Just paying homage.”
Homage, message, trash talk, whatever. It was cold-blooded.
I don’t know if KD had that little move in the back of his head, but it’s possible, seeing as he couldn’t get this game out of his head yesterday.
“Last night, I couldn’t sleep throughout the day in my napping, and last night, just thinking about playing against my former teammates, or really my brothers,” he said.
On the floor, KD was wide awake going for 37 on 13-22 shooting. He looked completely locked in to the game, showing a little more emotion than I’ve seen from him this season. This is the kind of game that Durant always shows up for. The Rockets were really never all that close but any time they threatened, No. 35 put them back to sleep.
It seems like we can finally kind of put this whole thing in the past now. It’s been a month since Harden was dealt, and now we’ve seen him in person playing on the other team. We got to experience what it felt like to be annoyed when he threw his head back looking for a foul. We got to watch him hit 3s and run down the floor with three fingers dragging the floor. We got to watch him try and beat the Thunder.
Now, it’s done with. Now, he’s just another player on another team. Or at least more so than he was before tonight.
“It feels good to compete against these guys and finally get it over with,” Harden said after the game. “Now I can continue on with the season.”
I’m sure it did feel good to get that one over with. And he’s probably not looking forward to the next meeting either.
- Durant on Harden: “It was crazy. Seeing him before the game, in chapel, in a different uniform, it was a little different,” Durant said. “But we moved on past it man, happy to see him, glad he’s doing well out there in Houston. But we wanted this win bad for all those days in practice that him, Daequan and Eric Maynor beat the first group, I wanted this game real bad. It was a good win. Good to see him and good luck to him the rest of the way.”
- Brooks on what he told Harden pregame: “Just the normal things. Pleasantries. We’re not going to let you score tonight. He said good luck.”
- Serge Ibaka, terrific. I never bought in to the Harden-or-Ibaka talk, but if there was any of that, Ibaka sure made the Thunder look smart tonight. He went 11-of-13 for 23 points with nine rebounds and five blocks. In 29 minutes.
- Look, I get that Chandler Parsons is a pretty nice player. But the number of people that have tweeted or said, “Well, keep in mind Chandler Parsons didn’t play…” is pretty ridiculous. If that’s where this Rockets team is, Chandler Parsons not playing, I think that says a whole lot.
- Without Parsons though, that left Harden and Cook to defend KD for most of the game. And they really just had zero chance of checking him.
- That KD baseline stepback in the fourth quarter.
- Evidently the James Harden trade should be known as the Daequan Cook trade. Cook did a lot more damage tonight than Harden did.
- Nothing all that interesting from Harden pregame. He said he wouldn’t have done things differently leading up to the trade and said he was stunned by it. “To be honest, I thought it was a very slight chance a trade would happen,” he said.
- Brooks on Harden: “James had an off night, that’s the bottom line. He missed some shots he normally would have made.”
- Is it just me or does Kevin Martin swish everything? Everything that goes in, I should say.
- The Thunder got hit with a delay of game before tipoff because pregame handshakes took too long. And it came back to bite them as Westbrook got a delay of game late in the fourth, which resulted in a technical foul Said KD about it: “I gotta go quicker on my little introductions or whatever they call it. Hopefully we don’t get one of those again. I just gotta speed it up.”
- Scott Brooks pronounced Omer Asik’s name “Ass-ick.” Which was awesome.
- Kevin Martin matched Harden with 17 points himself.
- Evidently Presti should asked for Patrick Patterson in the deal.
- Public service announcement: I can’t rip video when I’m at the arena. Also, I’m not your personal video ripper of every single play you want to see. Thank you.
- Westbrook is an improved catch-and-shooter, but he seems to rush it just a bit. His body doesn’t get settled and he almost starts his motion before he’s entirely caught the ball.
- When Jeremy Lamb is just catching and shooting, he looks amazing.
- So the Thabeet ejection. Evidently he sort of pushed ref Marc Davis inadvertently, which Davis interpreted as a “hostile” act. The play was reviewed and Thabeet was allowed to return to the bench. Davis released a statement after the game saying basically nothing, just describing what happened.
- Props to Davis though who is generally a pretty hot-headed official but swallowed his pride and reversed his decision.
- Evidently though Scott Brooks ejected Thabeet too, because he never returned. At least not until garbage time.
- Nick Collison said postgame that they definitely knew Harden’s game well and that helped, noting how KD timed up his Euro-step for a block.
- It should be noted that the Rockets had it pretty rough today. They were coming off a game last night but on top of that, they flew to Minnesota to attend Kevin McHale’s daughter’s funeral. So while it was an emotionally charged game because of Harden’s return, the Rockets had other stuff on their minds too.
- Seriously, Eric Maynor must have the coldest hands in history. He never stops blowing into them.
- It’s pretty obvious that Thabeet is trying to play with a little mean streak this season. Trying.
- The crowd was tremendous tonight. Harden got his ovation and the crowd was respectful of him the whole game. Except when he messed with one of their guys. At that point, he was just like any other opponent. Then the roar for Thabeet when he returned. Awesome stuff.
- Awesome tweet to me from @alexmsteele: “Is it just me or has Grant Long supposedly been in every situation possible in basketball?”
- We all know Thabo’s a tremendous defender, but the guy deserves more credit than he gets. He’s a lockdown guy.
- Nice moment pregame between Cole Aldrich and KD. Aldrich, who didn’t play because of an ankle injury, was waving over at the Thunder bench and no one seemed to really notice him. Durant looked up and not only waved back, but ran to midcourt and gave him a big hug and talked to him for a few minutes.
- A lot of people have been asking where KD’s mom has been this season. She will be at Friday’s game. She lives out in DC and simply doesn’t come to all the games. That’s it.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @ThunderBDSays: “The ashington izards are now the ashington Wizards… They got one W!”
Next up: Home against the Jazz Friday.