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 Wednesday.
However, 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 the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Harden entered the night as the fifth leading scorer in the league at 25 points a game. However, he was held to 17 points on 3-for-16 shooting. Patrick Patterson paced the Rockets with 27 points.
Even though his team had played two games, traveled more than 2,000 miles and made stops in three cities in a 27-hour span, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson wouldn't use that as an excuse for his team's play, especially in the final period.
Oklahoma City (12-5) took a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Rockets (7-8) needed to make a serious push early if they were going to get back into the game.
Knowing this, the Thunder picked up its defense and forced Houston into several turnovers and bad shots.
Houston had no answer for Durant, who scored 11 in the period. The gap soon ballooned to 102-84 and the rout was on.
While most of the buzz surrounding the game centered on the return of Harden, the Thunder's Kevin Martin was also playing his former team. The former Rocket came off the bench and scored 17 points. Russell Westbrook had a quiet 13 points, nine assists and three steals. Serge Ibaka added 23 points.
Daequan Cook, also back in Oklahoma City for the first time since being traded, started his first game of the year and posted 18 points.
The game was close at the start, but it took on a different tone after Harden and the Thunder's Hasheem Thabeet exchanged trash talk and shoves midway through the second quarter. Thabeet was removed from the game, but after watching the replay, the officials rescinded the ejection.
From that point on, the flow turned decidedly in Oklahoma City's favor, and the Thunder built a 57-45 halftime lead.
Durant scored 17 first-half points on 6-for-10 shooting, while Ibaka added 12 for Oklahoma City.
Patterson led Houston with 14 in the half.
NOTES: Before coming to Oklahoma City, the entire Houston Rockets organization traveled to Minnesota to attend the funeral of Sasha McHale, the 23-year-old daughter of coach Kevin McHale. She died Saturday after a lengthy battle with lupus. To honor Sasha McHale's favorite color, green, and lupus awareness, represented by purple, the team and staff wore purple and green ribbons. "It's something we had to do," Harden said. "Go support coach McHale and his family. He's going through a lot. We feel obligated to go and support him. Just seeing our faces gave him some kind of joy." ... McHale has been away from the team since taking a leave absence. Former Oklahoma coach Sampson has been the interim coach in his place. Wednesday was the first time Sampson has coached a game in Oklahoma since he left the Sooners in 2006. Sampson went on to become the head coach at Indiana before making the move to the NBA as an assistant coach in 2008. He's been with the Rockets since 2011. "I have got a pretty full toolbox when it comes to coaching," Sampson said. "I talk to Kevin every day. I talked to him the day his daughter died. I am holding the fort down until he comes back." ... When Harden was introduced, Thunder fans gave him a loud ovation. "Hopefully I will get some claps and hopefully I will see some beards in the crowd as well," Harden said before the game. "The fans were tremendous, and I love them. They were really supportive of me and the Thunder."