The Oklahoma Thunder had to make the hard choice to break up their own Big Three. Salary cap issues and the possibility of losing Harden to free agency prompted OKC’s brain-thrust to pull the trigger. In this much scrutinized trade, there were no clear winners and losers. Things were quite different in their first playoff game against each other.
Harden posted individual career highlights this season, but he will miss the thrill of an extended playoff run, watching his former Thunder teammates rampage from the opposite bench.
OKLAHOMA CITY — As awkward as he felt going up against his former teammate, Kevin Durant didn’t have a problem quite literally standing in James Harden’s way in the NBA playoffs.
Durant scored 24 points and drew a rare offensive charging foul, and the Oklahoma City Thunder routed Harden and the Houston Rockets 120-91 on Sunday night in Game 1 of their playoff series.
Durant, who’s known more for his three NBA scoring titles than for stepping in the way of oncoming opponents, got in Harden’s way on a transition drive in the third quarter in a standout defensive effort for the Thunder against the league’s second highest-scoring offense.
“It was all about giving your all every possession,” Durant said.
Hours before going head-to-head with Harden, Durant said that “we’re not looking at him as a friend right now.” But even right before tipoff, the situation didn’t seem natural.
“It felt a little awkward just looking across there during the national anthem and seeing him with another team, but we’ve got to get past that. We’re competing against his team, and he wants to win so bad,” Durant said. “We know him personally, so we know how hard he competes and he knows how hard we compete.”
After letting Houston wipe away an 11-point deficit in the first half, the Thunder regained control with a 14-1 surge just before halftime and kept pouring it on.
Just after a fan nailed a half-court shot to win $20,000 in the break after the third quarter, Durant drove for a two-handed slam while getting fouled and Oklahoma City was soon up by 30.
“We didn’t have a rhythm as a team. I felt like it was basically one on five every time,” Harden said.
Harden, playing against the team that traded him away just before the season started, had 20 points but the Rockets were held 15 points below their regular-season scoring average while shooting 36 percent. Houston, which set a franchise record for 3-pointers during the regular season, finished 8 for 36 (22 percent) from behind the arc.
“We were trying to be solid on the defensive end,” Durant said. “We knew they were a great scoring team. We just tried to pack the paint and get out to their shooters. We had to make the second and third efforts, and I think we did that.”