Tired Harden, Rockets Get Rude Awakening in OKC

 

OKLAHOMA CITY – The first indication that this would be a strange night hit James Harden the moment he walked into Chesapeake Arena Wednesday afternoon as a member of the Houston Rockets and headed, not in the least bit instinctively, for the visitors’ locker room.

Wow, this is weird, Harden told himself.

“You don’t really get to realize it until you’re actually in the position, just warming up on the other side,” Harden said. “It feels kind of weird. But it is what it is.”

Harden and the Rockets spent an emotional Wednesday morning 800 miles away in Minnesota, a span of a several hours they will likely never forget, attending the funeral of coach Kevin McHale‘s daughter, Sasha. She lost her battle with lupus on Saturday at age 23, the same age as Harden, the Rockets’ new $80 million man.

Later, it became a difficult night Harden and his team will just as soon forget. Harden, loudly cheered by the capacity crowd during pregame introductions, got a quick reminder as to the deafening roar that envelops the Thunder’s arena, earning it the nickname Loud City.

Several times in the early going, as Harden’s jumpers clanked off the rim and his drives were met with resistance at the rim, the crowd roared and Harden seemed to peer into the stands as he jogged back down the court.

This was no homecoming. It felt more like trespassing.

“It just felt good to be competing against those guys and get it over with,” Harden said. “To play here and get it over with and continue on with the season.”

There were no fake beards in the stands that used to crop up by the dozens, and The Beard himself hardly looked like the calm force of nature that so often  paced the Thunder attack and made him as popular here as the two superstars with whom he shared the court.

Harden finished the first half 0-for-8 from the floor. His first bucket, a driving layup that Serge Ibaka almost seemed to allow go by him, finally came one minute into the third quarter. He’d go 1-for-13 before dropping a couple of 3-pointers well into the Thunder having salted away a 120-98 victory.

Harden finished with 17 points, nine coming at the free-throw line, as he made just three of his 16 shot attempts, had three assists and three turnovers. He played nearly 40 minutes after logging 44 Tuesday night and then flying from Houston to Minnesota to Oklahoma City in a dizzying span of about 14 hours.

“I think he had to experience this. Sometimes you just have to go through the moment,” acting coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I thought he was pressing a little bit. He may not admit it, but I’ve seen him play every game. He’s been playing well. I thought he was pressing a little bit.”

Harden, averaging 25.1 points on the season, didn’t admit it, saying he was relaxed. But, really, how could he be? It was almost unfair to ask him to take on this emotional challenge hours after he sadly watched his new coach say goodbye to his daughter one last time.

“He had a lot of things swirling through his head,” Sampson said.

That a shoulder injury prevented Chandler Parsons from playing only exacerbated Harden’s situation. The lanky 6-foot-9 Parsons would typically defend Kevin Durant. Instead it was Harden on the taller, longer-limbed three-time scoring champ to start the game and Durant at times draping Harden.

One fourth-quarter sequence summed up Harden’s night. The Rockets hung in about as long as they possibly could, and had a chance to cut the Thunder deficit to single digits early in the fourth quarter. Harden got by Thabo Sefolosha and into the lane, looked to have a bead on the rim, but as he went up, Kevin Durant turned him away and then buried a 3-pointer at the other end to crank the lead back up to 13.

“I just couldn’t finish the ball at the basket when I had a couple of good looks,” Harden said. “I think other guys feel the same way. We had opportunities, easy shots that we can make — just didn’t tonight.”

Meanwhile, Harden’s replacement, 6-foot-7 shooting guard Kevin Martin, scored 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting. His transition with the Thunder continues to be as smooth as his 3-point shot. Durant scored 37 and Westbrook had 14 points and nine assists. The Thunder’s offense, ranked second in scoring, hasn’t missed a beat, and might be better.

As much as Harden wanted this to be just another game as he said Tuesday when the Rockets dusted off the Toronto Raptors, it wasn’t — couldn’t be. One month removed from the trade that rocked Harden, the Thunder and the league, emotions are still being sorted out.

The swiftness of the trade completed just five days prior to the start of the season caught Harden and his former teammates off-guard.

“It happened very fast,” Harden said. “One minute I was eating dinner with my family, the next minute I’m heading to Houston. It happened pretty quick.”

As Durant and Kendrick Perkins immediately phoned Martin as the official welcoming committee, Nick Collison went to Harden’s house to see how he was doing. Thoughts swirled, emotions ran the gamut.

“Yeah, there [are] emotions involved for sure,” Collison said. “It’s a tough situation. We had guys that were here and now we have different guys so, yeah, it’s definitely an adjustment. Those things go into it, but the good thing about it is we can keep those to ourselves. We don’t have to tell the media about that type of stuff, and and we just come out and know that really what we have to do is play with the new guys. But it’s definitely been an adjustment and continues to be an adjustment.”

Harden acknowledged that he’s dealt with, and is still dealing with a range of emotions: highs and lows, disappointment and excitement, all unlike anything before.

“As far as being with this team, this organization for three or four years, being with Kevin and Russell [Westbrook], the Finals and then Olympics, and then [the trade] happened so fast,” he said. “Basically, being traded, [moving] cities, a different role, different organization — it was completely new to me. I just try to go day by day and just try to figure it out.”

The best part of Wednesday will have been a quiet, reflective and short flight home to Houston, and a much-needed Thursday off to decompress.

23 Comments

  1. LaDonna McKinzie McKinzie says:

    Glad to see supportive and insightful comments regarding Harden. Good point, Daryl Daryl, about the “shock” that all the players were showing, along with Harden. They’ll be ok but it was obviously a painful experience for all of them. Am just surprised that more OKC fans haven’t recognized that fact. But then, perhaps they have, and it’s only just the blustering naysayers that have gotten the most attention. I’m not over it myself and feel as if I’ve lost something special from my life so I can only imagine how those young men were feeling. Life and basketball goes on and I wish the very best for all of them. Will always be a Harden fan no matter where he is playing.

  2. hardensblocked6times!!!!!!!!! says:

    BOSZI, sounds like to me you need a rockets jersey for christmas. I’m a dummy? Why? cause I believe in loyalty over money? Harden chose to leave the so called “family” so in my book hes a TRADER and you supporting him no matter where he goes is such a caring thing to say. You’re so understanding for his feelings….you should really consider a move to houston yourself cause you seriously sound like a Va JJ!!!!!!!!!! Just like him. Shame we got people like you in our state. Grow a pair please

  3. Bruno D says:

    I wondr what Harden real face actually looks like lol. If he shaved the beard, Guarentee you wouldnt even know who he was.

  4. Bruno D says:

    He forgot to mention that Lin was NO HELP at all what-so-ever. He runs around clueless on offense and his defense deffenitally doesn’t make up for his LIN-visibilty on offense. Lin is clearly dragging the Rockets behind. They play him max-mins because they got rid of all their other point guards thinking they could completely depend on Lin for his 8 great games last year, which was stupid. So he plays 35- 40 mins (in this game he played 42) and still cant have an average night, only time he does decent (which isn’t even decent but for him it is) is when they are blowing a team out. Harden has ben playing point because he is better with running this offense but the main reason is because he gets doule teamed so it opens up space in the paint for other guys to step up and most of them do but because Lin does nothing, every other player has to play 3 times better than normally just to makeup for it. It’s rediculous, and now the Lin only fans who can careless about the rockets and only care about watching and rooting for Lin are blaming Harden for everything. If it weren’t for Harden they would have a very disgraceful record right now.

  5. JJ says:

    Then obvious Harden didn’t view OKC as his family since he choose to leave! I ll say he is a good player, but 80 ml ? too much!

  6. Daryl Daryl says:

    As an OKC resident and huge Thunder fan Ive been all over this story. The team was shocked. The core group (including Collison) were best friends. It was traumatic for them to lose Harden. For the first games of the season the looks on their faces and actions were melancholy and unexcited. After 5 or 6 games they started getting over the shock of losing Harden. Now they are playing a lot more like they were at the end of last season.

  7. JJ says:

    Then why leave OKC? why not stay??? if there’s your good teammate, there’s your lovely team? you take that big pay check and then acting like so emotional for the leave? what’s that? I don’t buy this. I know OKC did make a not so bad offer to him but he didn’t take it. Other than that I don’t know what else happened within deeply the organization

  8. hardensblocked6times!!!!!!!!! says:

    I hope everyone will now shut up about this over rated over paid player and now understand hes just another average joe smoe player and in his rightful place on a lame team.

  9. hardensblocked6times!!!!!!!!! says:

    Harden is a bench player and matched up against his former mentors he was delt his worse game of his career. So proud of my thunder for not being nice to the trader. Shave the beard and go back to houston and await the next game against us where we will again shut you down. Houston…..enjoy overpaying for your 6th man turned wanna be allstar and not making the playoffs.

    • Boszi says:

      hardensblocked6times!!!!!!!!! you sound like a real dummy. You should never be a fan of OKC. OKC is about the family. Harden did well at OKC and will continue be good in Huston. He deserved ever penny he earns. Seems like you angry with his beard and his money. You need to go buy some lotto

  10. thesniper321 says:

    So each time Harden gets locked down on defense it’s because he’s tired? I guess he got micheal Jordan talent level to be hyped like that… Wait maybe OKC defense was just too good for him…. See what I mean???

  11. JenJen says:

    I’m still not over the shock of the trade, and from the look on Harden’s face all night I don’t think he is either. At least the fans gave him a nice welcome, instead of acting like jerks (I’m looking at you Philly) and boo him. And anyone that can’t understand how going back there and playing for the opposing team would be difficult is seriously delusional. Like most other OKC fans I wish Harden the best and will ALWAYS be a fan, no matter what jersey he’s wearing.

  12. Chris says:

    Lack of Parsons also made a huge difference. 20 points just dont replace themselves

  13. James Harden says:

    It was an off night for me. I think I can outplay Durant and Westbrook that’s part of the reason I Didn’t sign that deal. I felt I deserved a superstar salary and we will see when they come too Houston. FEAR THE BEARD!

  14. drew3821 says:

    I always thought Harden was overhyped. It is much easier to score as a third option on a very talented team. When people started to realize his skillset later in the season, he was useless.

    • gary says:

      Yeah – that’s why he’s averaging 24 points a night as the #1 scorer on the team – which makes your point basically useless.

  15. Doe Columbus says:

    no excuses but Harden had a long long day!! payback will be in Houston!!

  16. Bobcats > Lakers says:

    The Rockets are all dealing with something very tough right now with the loss of Sasha McHale. No excuse for the loss, but I think that plus the homecoming was weighing down heavy on Harden. Also what was up with Thabeet getting in Harden’s face?

  17. JJ says:

    What’s big deal playing against former team? Players left players trade its all normal.
    If harden want to stay with okc he can. It’s not in the Case where they didn’t gave him any offer. Dont know what’s happening with him n okc but certaintly 80 ml is better than 50.

    • KC says:

      You almost have to be an OKC fan to understand. Most people think about the NBA as a business, but you can see that that team in OKC thinks about each other as family. It’s one of the many reasons why they are so successful. Suddenly, a member of the family is heading off to Houston, a guy that you fought alongside for quite some time. Why wouldn’t it take some time to adjust? Being back in the old arena, lacing up against his old mates–it was probably very difficult for Harden.

  18. otherguy says:

    well its because they know hardens play, kev was like his mentor back in okc
    they know each others moves so it was expected that they’ll be able to stop him

  19. Abdel says:

    sure it was’t pretty home wellcoming but it was ex[pected . hareden became slow recently and so predictable.