There was nothing to be worried about. Three losses might sting a bit, but the Houston Rockets are better than that, and James Harden, as annoying as he can be in some of his games, is too good of a player not to bounce back from a bad start.
Seeing the Oklahoma City Thunder who he’ll always have something of a grudge against, with the players they preferred over him (and probably for good reason, although the real choice was either him or Serge Ibaka) gave Harden the required focus in order to give his best game this season so far, scoring 37 points in a 110-105 win over the previously undefeated Thunder, who might be a new team with new goals in terms of their style, but they can’t quite get there at the moment.
Not that the Rockets shared the scoring between too many players. That’s not a must; just look at the Warriors, where four players are willingly working their butts off so Curry can look like the best basketball player in the world. Four more Rockets scored in double figures, including 16 for the rested Dwight Howard (8 rebounds, 4 blocks) in 35 minutes, 12 from Marcus Thornton, 12 by Corey Brewer, and there was also Ty Lawson.
While Lawson wasn’t able to stop Russell Westbrook (who can?) he made it difficult enough on Westbrook at times to force him into mistakes. Lawson scored 14 points and added 11 assists while picking up four steals, with the Rockets forcing the Thunder into 24 turnovers. Westbrook and Durant combined for 14 of them.
Harden wasn’t the king of efficiency, but him shooting 12-of-26 from the field is something the Rockets can live with as long as the role players do their jobs, and his nine points from the line (9-of-11) are the minimum expected of him. The Rockets, excluding Harden, were only 10-of-18 from the free throw line, mostly because of Lawson missing five of seven.
The Thunder made a big point about playing different basketball this season. Billy Donovan isn’t Scott Brooks, right? Well, the Thunder lost for a number of reasons. One of them was not getting anything out of players that aren’t named Durant or Westbrook. The Dynamic duo combined to score 54 points on 19-of-35 from the field. The rest of the team shot just 21-of-49, while Durant and Westbrook simply got careless too many times with the ball, often allowing themselves to get trapped when releasing the ball would have been better.
Despite giving their opponents a head start, as long as the Rockets stay healthy this season, they’ll be fine. Harden will be hovering between nights like this and others in which he misses and doesn’t realise he needs to pass the ball. This year they’re more dependant than before on Howard, unless a present like Josh Smith falls into their lap for a second straight season.