James Harden drove the lane which he has driven so many times before, the north end of Chesapeake Energy Arena's hardwood, and suddenly there was his old pal.
Not trying to block the shot.
Nope, Kevin Durant was so fired up about the start of this reunion tour, he was trying to take a charge. Which he attempts about once a season whether he needs to or not.
“I was surprised,” Harden said. “I thought he was going to try to block my shot. He stood there and moved at the same time.”
The whistle went Durant's way, but that had nothing to do with the Thunder's 120-91 rout of the Rockets on Sunday night. The mentality had everything to do with it.
The high-flying Houstons were grounded. They missed 12 of their first 13 shots and eventually finished 33 of 91 from the field.
Harden made just six of 19 shots. Jeremy Lin was 1-of-7. Chandler Parsons 4-of-11. The NBA's second-highest scoring team broke 90 only on a shot with 34.5 seconds left by Donatas Motiejunas when the game went all junior varsity.
And Durant, the offensive phenom, was no small part of the effort. He dominated Parsons and even guarded Harden for a stretch. Not that any Thunder stayed on a Rocket long.
The Thunder continually switched on Rocket screens, even when playing with surplus big men. Rocket coach Kevin McHale admitted that has bothered his team all season, and it bumfuzzled Houston on Sunday night.
“It was all about giving it your all every possession,” Durant said. “Want to try to make them uncomfortable every time down.”
“Our defense was outstanding throughout the game,” Scotty Brooks said. “This is a very explosive offensive team that can beat you in very different ways. We locked in.
Our defensive energy was good from start to finish.”
The Thunder tried to downplay the Harden reunion angle, but Durant admitted it “felt a little awkward, looking across there and seeing him with another team. We gotta get past that.”
The Thunder got past it just fine in Game 1 of this Western Conference playoff series. Most possessions started with Thabo Sefolosha dogging Harden, but when the Thunder switches — with Durant or Russell Westbrook or even Serge Ibaka moving onto Harden — it neutralizes Houston's pick-and-roll offense.
No one knows better than Oklahoma City how productive Harden can be in the pick-and-roll.
The Thunder was a little aggressive early, which both frustrated Harden but also sent him to the line for four foul shots in the first quarter. But he got only three foul shots the final three quarters.
“James on this team has to shoulder a ton of responsibility for us,” said McHale. “He's had an all-pro type year. He'll play better. We ask him to do an awful lot for us. Handle the ball, make plays. He had it going for a little bit.”
But not for long. This game was over after three quarters, and now you know why the Thunder threw the D-League championship series by bringing back the Tulsa 66ers' best players for this game. DeAndre Liggins and Perry Jones were needed for mopup duty.
“Believe it or not, this was good for us,” Harden said. “We were kind of shell-shocked. Now we know how to play.”
Trouble is, the Thunder now knows how to play, too. Guard the Rockets like this, and this series will be over soon.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.