OKLAHOMA CITY — "We didn't know what to do or say, so we just waited for them to get finished, then they turn around and at the same time they looked at us," Sampson said. "Really, really, really emotional."
McHale hugged everyone in Houston's traveling party and shared a few words with each person. He took a leave of absence from the team on Nov. 10. Sasha died Saturday at age 23 of complications from lupus.
"Just to see our faces, I think, kind of gave him some kind of joy. Just to show him that we were there, our whole entire organization was there just to support him," Harden said. "No matter if it was for 5 minutes or 30 minutes, he just wanted to see our faces. I'm glad we got that opportunity to go out there and share that moment with him."
The team then flew to Oklahoma City, arriving at the arena less than 5 hours before game time. Sampson said about half of his players were in the locker room with towels over their heads, trying to squeeze in a nap during the afternoon.
Patrick Patterson scored 27 points and Omer Asik had 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way for the Rockets. Daequan Cook, also involved in the Harden trade, scored 18 points while starting in place of injured Rockets forward Chandler Parsons (shoulder).
Serge Ibaka scored 23 points and blocked six shots. Kevin Martin, the centerpiece of the trade from Oklahoma City's standpoint, had 17 points.
Before the game, the Thunder flashed a welcome back message to the players who were traded away and Harden got a warm ovation during starting lineups. Harden and Cook both greeted coach Scott Brooks and others on the Thunder bench just before tipoff.
Harden missed his first four shots — getting a jumper swatted from behind and out of bounds by Westbrook, and a fast-break layup blocked as Ibaka followed him to the basket — and committed two early turnovers. Cook also missed his first three shots, but then hit a jumper and a 3-pointer for a 19-14 Houston lead.