OKLAHOMA CITY — It was supposed to be a homecoming for James Harden. After being traded to Houston right before the season started, he made his first appearance back in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
Kevin Durant spoiled the party. With another all-around strong game of 37 points, seven rebounds and four assists, he led the Thunder to a 120-98 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Durant said he couldn’t sleep the night before because he was so excited about the matchup and was inspired by his former teammates being in town.
“We wanted this win bad for all those days in practice that (Harden), Daequan (Cook) and Eric Maynor beat the first group,” Durant said. “It was crazy seeing Harden before the game, and seeing him in a different uniform was a little different. We moved past it, though.”
Patrick Patterson paced the Rockets with 27 points. Harden entered the night as the fifth-leading scorer in the league at 25 points a game. He was held to 17 points on three-for-16 shooting.
“I think he had to experience this,” said interim Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, who was also making a return to Oklahoma. “Sometimes you just have to go through the moment. The next time he comes here, it won’t be his first time back. He won’t have gone through what he’s gone through. It’s almost a little bit unfair what he’s gone through.”
With his team having played two games and having traveled more than 2,000 miles for the funeral of coach Kevin McHale’s daughter, making three stops in three cities in a 27-hour span, Sampson understood why his team fell flat late.
Oklahoma City (12-5) took a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Rockets (7-8) needed to make a serious push if they were going to get back into the game.