While work remains to be done on the finer points of the game, the Rockets at least have acquired one of the elements essential to successful teams — the ability to make one of the NBA’s best players really, really angry.

Oklahoma City’s six-game series against the Rockets ended Friday with hugs and best wishes between old friends Kevin Durant of the Thunder and James Harden of the Rockets, but Durant’s feelings toward the Rockets for most of the last two weeks have been decidedly less charitable.

“I was starting to hate those guys,” Durant said after the Thunder closed out the series with a 103-94 win. “I was starting to hate every one of those guys on their team, and that is what happens in a series.

“You fight, and so many things go into the game, so much physicality, so much trash-talking, it’s fun … competitive nature … you start to build a hate for those guys, and I’m sure they felt the same way about us.”

Brotherly love

Given the nature of No. 1 seed vs. No. 8 seed playoff series, creating a healthy dislike can be considered an accomplishment for a Rockets team making the franchise’s first playoff appearance in three seasons.

It began with the Patrick Beverley-Russell Westbrook incident in Game 2 that resulted, unfortunately, in a season-ending injury to Westbrook and accelerated with the veteran gamesmanship of Oklahoma City guard Derek Fisher, whose ability to draw fouls was exceeded only by his
ability to hit big 3-pointers (13-of-23 for the series).

Game 6 clicked into a higher gear with a pair of double technicals — Kendrick Perkins of Oklahoma City against the Rockets’ Francisco Garcia in the first quarter, with a contributing shove from Omer Asik of the Rockets, and Durant against Asik in the second period.

But with the series in hand, enmity was set aside. Harden traded hugs first with Reggie Jackson, who replaced Westbrook in the Oklahoma City lineup and with Thunder coach Scott Brooks before he and Durant, his teammate on the 2012 Olympic team and for three years in Oklahoma City, renewed acquaintances.

“I love James like a brother. Blood couldn’t make us any closer,” Durant said. “I’m so proud of how he stepped up as a leader this season, especially in this series after being sick these last few games. He stepped up and played well for his team.

“He’s going to be a brother for life. I tried hard not to say nothing to him this whole series, but as time was winding down, I wanted to tell him I was proud of him.”
The Rockets, Durant said, are “doing something great here in Houston. … You appreciate the effort that they bring and their togetherness on the court. They’re a young group of guys, and they remind me of us a few years back. They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future.”