Kevin Durant ruined James Harden's return to Oklahoma City.
Ruined it for James Harden, that is.
On night when the Washington Wizards snagged their first victory, Rajon Rondo instigated a brawl during a game between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, and Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul led their respective teams to victory, there was the Durantula.
Emotions—regardless of what the players said—were running high. Harden received a loud ovation upon being introduced and from there, the stage was set for a tumultuous night.
But at a time when emotion could have got the best of him and his team, Durant remained composed. He came out firing on all cylinders, prepared to do whatever it took to ensure the Oklahoma City Thunder weren't going to suffer an upset at the hands of the Harden-led Houston Rockets.
Which is exactly what he did.
Stat Line: 37 points, seven rebounds, four assists and one block on 59.1 percent shooting.
After Harden's introduction was over with and opening tip took place, it was all business.
The Thunder managed to keep Harden in check all night, helped along by his 0-of-8 start from the field. Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook could even be found blocking his shot-attempts.
But this night, somewhat surprisingly, wasn't about Harden. Not for very long.
It was about Durant, and what he's currently doing for Oklahoma City, what he's always done for Oklahoma City.
His 37 points were important—he more than doubled Harden's total of 17—but they weren't everything. Neither were his seven rebounds or four assists.
What meant everything was Durant's ability to shine in the face of effusive adversity.
Just by looking at the Thunder's defensive rotations—and the post-game embraces to boot—you could tell that this wasn't just any other night. Sure, Durant and company took care of business like it was a normal contest, but the two-way ferocity they continuously displayed said otherwise.
And make no mistake, it's never easy to win—let alone perform at a high level—when so many outside factors come into play, when so much emotion is invested in the outcome.
Just take a look at Harden, who struggled immensely all night. He shot 3-of-16 from the field, and the Rockets posted a minus-17 with him on the floor, second-worst on the team.
These types of games, these types of situations have the potential to rattle players, to exploit their nerves and invoke a sense of instability .
Yet Durant remained unflappable. Of course this game meant something more to him, but he didn't allow such feelings to overshadow the fact that his team needed him to step up, needed him to ground them.
Both Westbrook and Kevin Martin managed to score some during this bout, but neither shot the ball better than 42.9 percent from the field. Westbrook dropped nine dimes to combat his inferior scoring totals, but would such a performance have been enough to propel the Thunder to an emotionally arduous victory?
Not at all.
Oklahoma City didn't need any more personal stakes in this one. The entire team was motivated to win more than it normally would have been.
What the Thunder did need, however, was someone to lead the statistical charge, someone who remained placid in the midst of such emotional controversy.
Durant, from start to finish, proved to be that someone. He did not let the sentimental magnitude of this contest impede his vision, didn't let it becloud what was truly important.
And what genuinely mattered—all that ever genuinely matters—was winning. Harden or no Harden, Oklahoma City needed to assert its dominance over an inferior opponent.
Which they did; which Durant did.
He was the only player to log more than 42 minutes of burn in this game. He was the only player who took more than 20 shots for both teams. And he was the only member of the Thunder who shot more than five free throws.
In other words, in a game where every player involved kept fighting, he kept executing.
He was the heart and soul for this Oklahoma City team, just like it was any other game on the schedule.
Even though it wasn't just any other game on the schedule.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 29th, 2012.
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