Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 11/28/12
OKLAHOMA CITY -- It was supposed to be a homecoming for James Harden. After being traded to the Houston Rockets right before the season started, he made his first appearance back in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. 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. 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. However, he was held to 17 points on 3-for-16 shooting. "I think he had to experience this," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. "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."" Despite shooting poorly, Harden said he wasn't nervous or trying to force his game. It was just one of those nights when nothing would fall. "It felt good to be competing against those guys and finally get it over with," Harden said. "Now I can continue on with the season. A lot of things have happened in these past 24 hours. "It's just another game. We have 70 more. Now we have a day off tomorrow to rest, relax our bodies and get ready for Utah." With his team having played two games, traveled more than 2,000 miles and made stops in three cities in a 27-hour span, Sampson understood why his team fell flat late in the game. "We didn't play well tonight," Sampson said. "I thought we hung in there for about as long as we could. Then Durant hit a couple of contested 3s. Kevin (Martin) hit a couple of contested 3s." 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. However, Oklahoma City 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. "Coach was telling me to be aggressive," Durant said. "At the start of the fourth he wanted me to go in and push over the top a little bit. I took that message as to be aggressive, try to get the ball and try to score and make the defense play me." 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 ex-Rocket scored 17 points off the bench. Russell Westbrook had a quiet 13 points, nine assists and three steals. Serge Ibaka added 23 points. Cook, also back in Oklahoma City since being traded, started his first game of the year and posted 18. "I do a lot of conditioning to keep myself up for games like this," Cook said. "I felt pretty good out. It felt like home. My second home. I felt very comfortable out there playing." 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. "That was, um, unique," Brooks said. "He came back, our crowd went nuts. It was like Willis Reed. I'm joking." From that point on, the flow turned decidedly in Oklahoma City's favor, and the Thunder built a 57-45 halftime lead. 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."
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