HOUSTON — So this is what it feels like, seeing him raise those hands and curl those fingers, watching him pop his jersey, enlarging the script of his hometown team, one you don’t root for, witnessing him bark at each and every one of your players and coaches after he rips your heart out more with each ensuing possession, all while you know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that there’s not a thing anybody can do about it.
This is the James Harden that Oklahoma City came to know and love. He’s the same player that was unceremoniously shipped to Houston last October for financial reasons and the same guy who has been lighting up the league ever since he joined the Rockets as their latest franchise player.
On Wednesday, after escaping his wrath in each of the first two meetings, the Thunder finally took its turn, falling 122-119 inside the Toyota Center as Harden hung a career-high 46 points on his former team.
Though he tried his best to downplay, if not downright deny, his performance having anything to do with the opponent, Harden’s energy on this evening told another story.
“It sure looked like it, didn’t it?” said Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin when asked if the game meant a little more to Harden. “We felt like we didn’t compete with them the first two games that we played against them. So this time out, we wanted to make sure that we did that and he had an incredible game. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that.”
Harden made 14 of 19 shots and nailed seven of eight 3-pointers. He also converted 11 of 12 free throws, including his final pair with 6.7 seconds remaining to give him his career high, one more than the 45 he scored at Atlanta on Nov. 2.
For good measure, he added eight rebounds, six assists, one steal and one blocked shot while turning it over only twice in 44 minutes, 14 seconds.