The instant he was traded from the Thunder to Houston on Oct. 27, fourth-year shooting guard James Harden went from being sixth man to being The Man.
His impact was immediate with 37 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and four steals in a debut win at Detroit. In his first NBA season as a starter, Harden finished fifth in the NBA in scoring at 25.9 per game and also averaged 5.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
As is the case with most players, Harden numbers were noticeably better at home.
Home: 26.5 ppg; 45.7 percent FG; 40.5 percent 3FG.
Away: 25.4 ppg; 42.0 percent FG; 33.3 percent 3FG.
Harden shot poorly at FedExForum (Memphis), EnergySolutions Arena (Utah), Pepsi Center (Denver), Oracle Arena (Golden State), American Airlines Center (Dallas) and Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indiana), but there was no facility where he struggled more than his old haunts of Chesapeake Energy Arena.
In his lone OKC appearance this season, Harden missed his first nine shots, 12 of his first 13 attempts and had six shots blocked. Thunder players literally took turns rejecting Harden shots. In order, the shot-blockers were Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Hasheem Thabeet, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant and Ibaka again. All told, OKC had 11 blocks, led by Ibaka with six.
Harden finished 3 for 16 from the floor with three assists, two rebounds and three turnovers on 39:27 of playing time. Was the Thunder’s success in that particular game because of how well OKC players knew Harden’s game, or was it far more personal than that? Was it about showing Harden he made the wrong decision not coming to terms on a contract extension offered by the Thunder?
“I think a lot of it just had to do with pride, so you’re going to lock in (defensively),” Perkins said. “Obviously, with the whole James thing, he probably wants to have a good game and we don’t want him to have a good game. That’s just how it is.”
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