Way before Kevin Durant became your least-favorite human, there was James Harden.
He left Oklahoma City, possibly he was forced out, who knows? Perhaps, it’s all on how you see it. It doesn’t matter now. That’s not the point. The point is, there was some real hating going on. Not to the extent that most of the OKC metro wishes ill on KD or hope Patrick Beverley steps on the business end of the rake, but a genuine and real dislike for James Harden was out there.
Game 1 is tonight and 1. we’re only a few hours away from getting upset with Harden getting every, single call. Count on it.
There’s that, and here are 19 other predictions for tonight’s game in Houston:
The Thunder have a history of bad breaks in the playoff. KD missing games. Russ getting hurt. Ibaka getting hurt. But this season feels different. The Thunder got their bad news back in July when Durant announced he would be playing for Golden State. Since then, the 2016-17 season has felt like a death march, a road to nowhere, all leading to an average kind of year where a playoff series win was pretty much the ultimate.
And here we are. OKC is a No. 6-seed. Deserving of it and true to form. This Thunder team is good enough to make the playoffs and probably not good enough to do more than that.
But that doesn’t mean irrationality won’t seep into our cerebral cortex. That’s what happens when Kyle Singler scores 11 points in one game. The impossible seems do-able. Championships seem attainable. Oh, and there’s also Russell Westbrook. He’s good, too.
So good, in fact, 2. he’ll provide the first triple-double of the playoffs. 3. and the first technical foul for the Thunder. Westbrook taketh and giveth away. You know this. And you know you’ve been craving this Beverley-Westbrook confrontation, too. It’ll be amazing. In addition to 4. Westbrook scoring 10 or more first-quarter points, 5. getting more than three rebounds in the first quarter and 6. at least three assists, before the second quarter Westbrook will:
7. Gesture wildly at Beverley
8. Foul Beverley at least once
9. Show that “stank face” after a dunk, turnover or after expressing some general displeasure at an innocent referee.
Meanwhile, 10. you’ll be thinking about how Beverley went full “wrestling heel” in that one playoff game years ago in OKC, knocking Westbrook out of the playoffs which eventually knocked OKC out of the playoffs, too. Some memories never fade, instead they grow stronger over time, festering, while feeding that grudge you hang onto, choke-holding it to death. 11. Secretly you’ll think, even if Patrick Beverley himself killed Hitler or gave you a winning lottery ticket, you’d still never cheer for him. Just think, there’s gonna be at least four games of this stuff, likely more.
But let’s get back to Harden and his lean-in, shot-faking, head-bobbing, ability to get way too many calls. Sure, he didn’t get near enough calls when he played for the Thunder, but now he gets too many. And while we’ve spent the better part of a half-decade cursing Andre Roberson and his no-shooting ways, 12. all will be forgiven by tip-time tonight. He’s got to guard Harden, no small feat with the eyes of the playoff world on him. Remember, Harden is going to be playing this series as if the MVP is still in question (the votes were due in last week). 13. And there’s just no way Harden will struggle Sunday like he’s done this season against the Thunder in the four games he’s played against them this year.
14. Harden will have fewer than the six turnovers he’s averaged against OKC this year. 15. He will shoot better than the 34.3 percent he’s shot against the Thunder this season, too. 16. Oh, and he’ll make at least three 3-pointers, which is quite a bit better than his four-game average this season. Harden made just 7-of-31 3’s this season against OKC. As personally as Westbrook seems to take things, Harden will do the same on Sunday. 17. And won’t get a technical foul.
As much as July 4 changed the course of the Thunder future, it’s only natural to think about what could have been with the Harden and Russ and KD together, forever. Then again, that kind of wishful thinking will only make you more mad when 18. Houston builds a double-digit, first-half lead and 19. and Harden has 20 or more points at the break.
That’s our reality now. No Harden, a Thunder team which isn’t the same as we’re used to, and so much built up angst thanks to KD, the possibility of maybe losing Russ to free agency and the rapidly dwindling North Atlantic ice caps.
So much to worry about, including a 20. Houston win in Game 1.