James Harden struggled in his one return to Oklahoma City in the regular season, and things were no different on Sunday night when his Rockets faced the Thunder in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series. Harden did score 20 points, but he shot just 6-of-19 overall and 1-of-6 from three in an ugly 120-91 loss.
Harden was a bit tentative at the outset, but he was able to find himself rather quickly, scoring 11 first-quarter points. However, things went downhill in the second half as he and the Rockets fell apart. The Thunder defense was relentless in their defense of Harden, with Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Durant harassing him on the perimeter and Serge Ibaka protecting the rim on drives.
Harden admitted that the young Rockets were a bit "shell shocked," but tried to bring out the positives in the loss.
"I think it was more the first time. Just being here, being in the playoff atmosphere on the road," Harden said. "It was our first game. It probably was good for us that we lost like that. Now we can just watch the film and know what we can get better at and come out and execute in the second game."
Harden received some boos during introductions from the fans who adored him just last season. The Rockets' star could have accepted less money to stay with the Thunder, but he wanted the max contract and star role that Oklahoma City could not provide. Harden said he was not focused on the crowd, although he did say that it was a bit strange to be suiting up in the playoffs as the enemy in Oklahoma City.
"It was awkward before the game," Harden said. "But as the ball went in the air, we just tried to play each other, to go out there and win. It is what it is."
Durant echoed Harden's sentiments, highlighting that the situation was the most awkward right before the tip.
"It felt a little awkward, just looking across there during the National Anthem and seeing him with another team," Durant said. "But we have to get past that. We're competing against his team and he wants to win so bad. We know him personally, so we know how hard he competes and he knows how hard we compete. It's fun to play against him. It was a little different seeing him in another uniform, but we have to move on to the next game and see how it plays out."
Harden and the Rockets will look to regroup in Game 2 on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
Quotes via NBA.com.