The NBA world was shocked again Thursday as ESPN reported the Rockets and Thunder completed a trade sending Chris Paul to Oklahoma City and Russell Westbrook to Houston.
This is a huge deal for the Western Conference as Houston boasts a similar team to what it had last year, but got younger and more athletic in the process.
Rockets fans can dream about the potential of this tandem, but it’s not an idea that is foreign. In fact, we’ve seen this combination before as Harden and Westbrook both were drafted by the Thunder and played together from 2009-12 and made an NBA Finals alongside Kevin Durant in their last season together.
So what did those teams look like in Oklahoma City? They looked great, we’ll tell you that.
With Westbrook, the Thunder had a high-energy point guard who was unstoppable going to the rim and a terror on defense. With Durant, Oklahoma City had the player who could get any shot he wanted and presented a mismatch every time he was on the court. Harden was the sixth man for that team as he provided a solid scoring option and a better defender than people may remember (he was given the job of guarding LeBron James in the 2012 NBA Finals for long stretches).
But, we can only tell you so much about how they played together. It will be much better to show you. Just take this game on March 23, 2012 when the three combined to score 110 points against the Timberwolves. Harden and Westbrook totaled 70.
As good as they were as a team, though, a lot of people didn’t take them seriously. That is until they dominated the Spurs in the Western Conference finals. After losing the first two games, they came back to win the last four by an average of nearly 10 points (9.75).
In that series, the big three dominated as Westbrook averaged 18.1 points, 7.3 assists and 5.8 rebounds, Harden put up 18.5, 5.5 and 3.6 while Durant added 29.5, 5.3 and 7.5. This was the team to beat for years to come.
They wound up losing to the Heat in the Finals in five games, but they won the first one, and had it not been for a missed foul call in the waning moments of Game 2, the Thunder might have gone up 2-0 in that series and then, who knows?
This team was the Warriors before the Warriors and Harden and Westbrook were huge parts of that. It looked like it was going to be a dynasty for years to come in the West, but that was until Harden was coming due for an extension and more money.
Ultimately, the Thunder didn’t pay him and he was dealt to Houston along with Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks (which became Steven Adams in 2013 and Mitch McGary in 2014), and a second-round pick (which became Álex Abrines in 2013).
Harden then went on to win an MVP with Houston in 2018, Westbrook won it with the Thunder in 2017 and Durant got one in 2014. Now, two of those players are back together. Durant is the only one to have a title (he won two with the Warriors), but Westbrook and Harden can see if they can get one they so highly covet.
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