James Harden spoke to reporters Sunday afternoon.
He did so from inside Chesapeake Energy Arena following the Houston Rockets’ first shootaround in preparation for Game 1 against the Thunder. Harden used words like “crazy,” “surreal” and “weird” to describe being back in Oklahoma City, getting ready to play a playoff game as a member of the visiting team.
But he embraced the situation and said “it’s still basketball.”
Q: Coming back in this building, seeing this arena, do memories just come flooding back as far as last year’s playoff run?
A: Oh definitely. Even the people that work here. Just a lot of smiles and just a lot of enjoyment when I come in. It feels weird, but this is what it is.
What kind of reception are you anticipating from the crowd?
To be honest, I have no idea. I’m not really worried about that. I’m worried about how can I help my team win basketball games. Tonight’s going to be a big challenge for us. We know they’re a great team, especially at home so it’s going to be a hard matchup for us. But we got to come in playing the right way.
Your first postseason as a Rocket, is it surreal being in Oklahoma City and the Thunder being the first playoff opponent for the Rockets?
Oh yeah, it’s definitely surreal, not only being my first postseason (with the Rockets) but being back here in Oklahoma City. It’s crazy. But, like I said, it’s what it is. It’s still basketball. I played the entire regular season with the Rockets and now I’m here.
Do you look forward to the switch coming on for your younger teammates and them going, ‘OK, this is now a different type of ballgame?’
Oh definitely. I’m anxious. I’m anxious in trying to gather my guys (and get them) ready. They’ve played through an entire regular season. But the playoffs and the intensity amps up another notch. So I’m excited. I think we’re all excited to go in here and compete and get ready for a young playoff series.
Does this series remind you of the 2010 series between the Thunder and Lakers?
Yeah, an 8-seed going against the Lakers definitely. A young team trying to build something new. Definitely similarities. And like I said, we’re just going to go out there and compete. I think in that series against the Lakers we just tried to go out there and give it our all. Obviously they were one of the best teams in the league at that time so we couldn’t do nothing but just go out there and compete.
Using that experience, what can you impart on your younger teammates who haven’t been through it?
A lot of these guys haven’t been in the playoffs, so I just tell these guys just go out there and just play hard. All the small things is going to matter, not really the home-run plays. The small things on the scouting report; not really turning the ball over, things like that that we can control is going to give us a chance at the game.
You mentioned the other day that you thought Rockets-Thunder was a series that was always going to happen as soon as you got traded to Houston. Were there days where you sort of envisioned how this series might play out back when you were thinking that way?
I didn’t say that I envisioned it. I just said the second-to-last game of the regular season I knew it was a great opportunity, a great chance that we would play them. And now it’s here. It should be fun; a lot of scoring, a lot of guys just competing and young guys having fun and going out there and just trying to compete and win.
Earlier you mentioned things that you had to do to win the game and help your team. What are some of those things specifically you’re going to try to do?
Things that I’ve been doing all regular season, scoring playmaking, defense, talking, being a leader.
Because you do have a good deal of postseason experience, been to the Finals, Omer (Asik’s) been to the conference finals, how important is it whatever tone you guys, Carlos (Delfino) Francisco (Garcia), set early in influencing others to sort of get past that hurdle of never done it before? How much of it goes to you, Omer, a couple of the other guys?
It definitely goes to us. Like you said, we’ve been in a playoff series. I think the guys will get a glimpse of it the first quarter. The first quarter they’ll see how intense and how crazy it is. How much more detailed you have to be throughout these playoffs series to even have a chance. It’s only so much talking we can do. You have to go out there and experience it yourself.
Did you figure out anything in that last meeting when you had the career high against these guys in terms of how you can exploit the Thunder’s defense?
I was just making shots. I mean, I’m not going to lie. I was just making shots. Making shots and just trying to be aggressive. Just trying to stay in attack mode. That was it. I’ve been watching a lot of film just to try to figure out where can I be effective throughout an entire series. But in that particular game I was just making shots and got some calls toward my way.
How much more confidence did that game give not only you but also your teammates that you can hang with the Thunder?
It gave us a lot of confidence. A lot of confidence to go out there and compete. The previous two games I think they beat us by 20 both games. So just to get a win against this team, it gave us a lot of confidence that we’re capable of beating this team. We have to play the right way for a long period of time for the majority of the game. But we do have a chance. So that’s the mindset we have to have.