Kevin Durant took the floor with James Harden again for the first time since the Olympics, and he couldn’t fight the feeling.
“Playing with him today made me miss him a little bit,” Durant said.
It helped a little that the West All-Stars beat the East All-Stars 143-138 Sunday at Toyota Center in Houston, where Harden now plays. He was the Rockets’ only All-Star, and for a time it appeared West coach Gregg Popovich was going to give Harden every opportunity to take home the game’s MVP honor.
That ended up going to Clippers guard Chris Paul, who had 20 points and 15 assists in 27 minutes, but Harden’s first All-Star game qualified as a success nonetheless. He scored 15 points to go with six rebounds and three assists, and his 26 minutes were four more than anybody else on the West’s bench.
“I tried to make as many shots as possible,” he said. “I couldn’t make a layup.”
That was an issue. Harden went 6-for-13 from the field and 3-for-8 from the 3-point line, meaning he was more than a couple layups from getting serious MVP consideration.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, of course, had what looked like the makings of a Western Conference dynasty with Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden all still in their early 20s. A loss to the Heat in the Finals last June appeared to be just the beginning, right up until the Thunder traded Harden to Houston.
OKC is doing just fine without Harden, and the season Harden is having in Houston is so good you could call it a breakout year, even though this is a guy who has already played on the U.S. Olympic team. Nonetheless, there had to be a moment of pining nostalgia for anybody who cares about the Thunder to see Durant, Harden and Russell Westbrook all out there on the floor at the same time, together again.
“I miss those guys as well,” Harden said. “Just being with them every day, when you leave somewhere, you definitely are going to miss them. This weekend was good for us just to see each other and catch up on good times.”
There had been some doubt as to whether Harden would play at all. He’s been dealing with an ankle injury, though he did not appear to be bothered by it Sunday.
“It was good,” he said. “Real good.”
So was his old teammate. Durant became the first player in NBA history to score at least 30 in three consecutive All-Star games, going 13-for-24 from the field and 3-for-8 from 3-point range. His offense helped the West build a lead that reached as high as 11 with two minutes left. The East rallied to within four, but after Paul made a free throw to extend the lead to five, the East gave up.
So Durant, Harden and Westbrook got the win over LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh they couldn’t get last summer. For whatever that’s worth.
“It was a very special weekend,” Harden said. “All the fun times, laughs … the game tonight summed it up.”