Harden gets tough love in return to OKC
by Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
OKLAHOMA CITY — In the three special seasons in which James Harden, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder wrote their small-market story of a young and fun team on the rise, they developed a bond that bordered on brotherhood.
In Harden’s first trip back since he was so shockingly traded to the Houston Rockets on Oct. 28, he was the little brother they all beat up on in a 120-98 loss at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Harden, the reigning sixth man of the year who had spent most of this season showing why he was worthy of the max deal he was never going to get here, missed his first nine shots and finished 3-for-16 from the field with 17 mostly-meaningless points. He was one of the many Rockets who were well within their right to claim fatigue as a factor, as the team had endured an emotional two-day stretch in which they played Tuesday night in Houston, attended the funeral Wednesday morning in Minneapolis for coach Kevin McHale’s daughter and arrived Wednesday afternoon in Oklahoma City. Sasha McHale died Saturday after losing her battle to Lupus.
“Just to be competing against those guys (was good), and to finally get this over with — to play here and get this over with and now continue on with the season,” Harden said. “(But) I think when you travel on the same day, and you get here a few hours before off a back to back, there’s just a lot of things that happened in these last 24 hours. But like I said, it’s something that we had to do.”
Stand-in Rockets coach Kelvin Sampson said, “I thought he was pressing. I’m not sure he would admit it, but just looking at him…I thought he was pressing a little bit.”
It wasn’t the first time Harden had felt pressure from the Thunder.
When the two sides couldn’t come to terms on an extension, Harden was given approximately an hour to decide whether to take the latest offer or run the risk of being traded, he says. He received the news that he had … [For more on James Harden gets tough love in return to Oklahoma City, click here.]