Afterward, Harden wanted you to believe that the win, the Rockets’ 30th this season, was all that mattered, that playing well coming out of the All-Star break was what was most important.
“I try to send a message every game,” Harden said when asked if that was his intent. “If you watch the other 50 games, I did the same thing.”
Not against the Thunder.
In the first two meetings, Harden averaged just 21 points and was held to 27.2 percent shooting. The Thunder rolled over the Rockets by an average of 26 points.
This time, Harden came out hot, making his first four shots, all 3-pointers, to score 14 in the first quarter. He knew then it was his game.
“I haven’t made four 3s all season in one game,” Harden said. “That kind of helped me out with my confidence, just to get it going early, not trying to really force it but getting my teammates involved and let everything else open up.”
Harden finished off the Thunder in the final period, when the Rockets rallied from a 14-point deficit by scoring 29 points in the final 7 1/2 minutes.
Harden scored or assisted on 16 of those points and watched his playmaking ultimately lead to assists by other teammates on two other 3-pointers.
“Anytime you play against your former team, that’s natural to feel a lot of pride against that team,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “It’s nothing personal. I’ve known him obviously for a while. He’s a competitor. He plays hard. He wanted to win the game.”