44 minutes, 37 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 block.
Those numbers have to hurt the Thunder at least a little bit. Yeah it was only one game, but that one game was indicative of what they will be missing out on moving forward.
There was James Harden, a central cog in the Thunder’s run to the Finals last year and a figured future cornerstone of the franchise, dropping career numbers in his first game in a Houston Rockets uniform. Out in Oklahoma City one can only imagine that the Thunder had hoped that Harden would wait a couple weeks to post some impressive numbers with his new team, at least until the shock and disappointment of the fact that the Thunder shipped off this fan favorite had died down slightly.
But Harden wasted little time in making it known exactly how valuable he could be to a team, dropping history-book worthy stats while leading Houston to a come from behind victory in what was his first game in Rocket red. His performance also helped to silence the critics of his freshly minted eighty million dollar contract, at least for the moment.
To make matters worse for the Thunder, they were unable to get a win in their first game post-Harden, losing to opposing Western Conference power San Antonio at the buzzer. With Harden’s impressive performance fresh in fan’s minds, this loss seemed especially sour. Anything short of a Finals victory this season will leave fans wondering what could have been. How good could the Thunder have been for the next five seasons had Sam Presti been able to keep the young, explosive nucleus of Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka together? Now, we will never know.
The Thunder received decent compensation for last season’s Sixth Man of the Year award winner, or at least as decent of compensation you can get for a player of that quality. Despite this, they will still suffer on the court, and with the fan base as well. Harden was a fan favorite; the off-the-bench energy player who could score quickly and at will. Throw in the fun facial hair and the whole “Fear the Beard” campaign which fans so eagerly embraced, and it is easy to see why a fan base that still boasts 2 of the NBA’s 10 best in Durant and Westbrook, is so torn up over the trade.
The Thunder will still be solid this season, and can certainly compete for a championship, but a bit of their mystique is missing. Harden did a lot for the team, and was capable of doing even more, evidenced by his explosion against the Pistons the other evening. The Thunder are still stacked, but there will be a noticeable absence of beard this season, and that will hurt the team both on, and off the court.