Durant, Thunder rout Rockets in Game 1
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
OKLAHOMA CITY — In making his postseason return to the familiar and now unfriendly confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena, James Harden witnessed firsthand everything that has made the Oklahoma City Thunder so formidable in recent years.
The Thunder, the top seed in the Western Conference, pulled away late in the second quarter and secured a 120-91 victory over the eighth-seeded Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the best-of-seven NBA playoff series.
A good portion of the boisterous crowd that Harden became accustomed to during his first three seasons in the league booed his every basket and cheered his every miscue. Unable to agree on a contract extension with Harden, the Thunder traded the reigning NBA’s sixth man of the year in October and then watched him become the league’s fifth-leading scorer and an All-Star.
But the trade also benefited the Thunder, who have designs on making a return trip to the NBA Finals. And Harden, who scored 20 points on 6-for-19 shooting, could not match the offensive firepower of his former teammates, including stars Kevin Durant, who had 24 points and Russell Westbrook, who had 19 to go along with 10 assists and eight rebounds.
The Rockets, who averaged 106 points a game during the regular season, missed their first nine field goal attempts and dug themselves into an early 13-point first-quarter deficit. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said his team would not shy away from running against the Rockets, and they beat them at their own game.
Before the game, Harden said it would be “interesting” to see how fans greeted him upon his return to Oklahoma City in the playoffs. He signed about a dozen autographs and hugged a security guard before entering the locker room after warming up. But during player introductions, he was serenaded with a chorus of boos, which he heard again when he went to the free throw line early in the game.
With 8:32 left in the first quarter, Harden found himself covering Durant. The Thunder star cut to the basket, and Serge Ibaka found him with a pass for a layup that gave the home team an eight-point advantage.