Rockets overcome Westbrook's 51, take 2-0 lead over Thunder
HOUSTON – James Harden scored 35 points and the Houston Rockets overcame 51 points from Russell Westbrook in the highest-scoring triple-double in playoff history, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-111 on Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round Western Conference playoff series.
Westbrook set a franchise playoff scoring record and added 13 assists and 10 rebounds. It was the sixth career playoff triple-double for Westbrook, who had an NBA-record 42 in the regular season.
But he shot just 4 for 18 in the fourth quarters as the Rockets clawed back from a double-digit deficit to surge ahead before holding on.
Game 3 is Friday night in Oklahoma City.
The game was tied before Houston scored 10 straight points with 3-pointers from Harden, Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon to make it 114-104 with 1:22 remaining. Westbrook had four straight points to start a 7-1 run after that, but the Thunder wouldn't get any closer.
This was a much different game than the series opener, when Houston routed the Thunder 118-87. On Wednesday night, Houston trailed by as many as 15 and didn't take a lead until the fourth quarter.
The Rockets benefited from a balanced scoring attack, with Lou Williams adding 21, Gordon scoring 22 off the bench and Game 1 star Beverley chipping in 15.
The Rockets used a big run early in the fourth quarter to go on top for the first time in the game with about eight minutes remaining. Harden's 3 about three minutes later made it 104-100.
Andre Roberson added a tip-in layup for the Thunder before two free throws by Westbrook tied it at 104-all with about 3 minutes left.
The Thunder led by three entering the fourth quarter and scored the first five points of the period, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Doug McDermott, to make it 94-86.
Oklahoma City went more than three minutes without scoring to allow Houston to take the lead. The Thunder had missed seven straight shots when Westbrook got them back on track with a layup with about eight minutes left.
The Thunder led by seven with about nine minutes left in the third quarter before Westbrook made four quick points to extend the lead to 79-68. Houston scored the next six points, but Oklahoma City answered with seven points in a row after that, with five from Westbrook, to extend the lead to 86-74 with about 3 minutes left in the quarter.
The Thunder led by as many as 15 points in the first half, but Houston had cut the lead to 68-62 at halftime.
Thunder: Westbrook was just two rebounds shy of a triple-double by halftime with 22 points and 10 assists. ... Roberson was Oklahoma City's second-leading scorer with 12 points. ... Oklahoma City made just 7 of 30 3-pointers.
Rockets: Houston has won five in a row over Oklahoma City including regular-season games. ... Capela had 10 rebounds. .. Harden made 18 of 20 free throws.
The series moves to Oklahoma City for Game 3 on Friday and Game 4 on Sunday.
D'Antoni looking for 1st title in his 1st year with Rockets
In his first trip to the playoffs since 2013, Mike D'Antoni knows the rub on him is that he's never won a championship.
The 65-year-old first-year coach of the Houston Rockets doesn't spend much time worrying about that criticism.
"That's cool," he said. "I know a lot of golfers that didn't win a major and they said: 'Oh he can't win the big one.' And then he wins five. It's hard to win a championship."
It's been one playoff disappointments after another for the innovative coach.
D'Antoni shook up the game by introducing his fast-paced offense to the Phoenix Suns in the early 2000s. His Phoenix team in 2004-05 that was led by Steve Nash won 62 games before losing in the Western Conference finals. A year later the Suns won 54 games but were sent home in the conference finals again. In 2006-07 the Suns won 61 games, but were ousted in the conference semifinals.
In 2005 and 2007 they were eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs, who went on to win the title.
The 2007 season is the last one in which D'Antoni advanced past the first round. In his last three trips to the postseason, 2008 with Phoenix, 2011 with the Knicks and 2013 in Los Angeles, he's managed just one win combined .
He isn't daunted by his postseason misfortune, and is looking forward to changing things this year.
"We'd like to put that to rest," D'Antoni said. "I would personally, but everybody would, too. So that's what we're going to work for."
The Rockets are off to a good start.
Houston rolled to a 2-0 lead in their first-round series against Oklahoma City with a 118-87 win on Sunday night and a 115-111 win on Wednesday night.
The series-opener was a reflection of D'Antoni's success this year.
He has revived his coaching career and put the Rockets back in contention in his first head coaching stint since resigning from the Lakers after going 27-55 in 2013-14. Under his tutelage, Houston shook off last year's disappointing season where it finished eighth in the West and was eliminated in the first round. This year they have the third best record in the NBA.
Perhaps most important to Houston's success was D'Antoni moving James Harden to point guard. The change elevated the five-time All-Star from an elite player in the league to one of its best.
Harden had 22 triple-doubles and finished with 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds all career-highs to help Houston to 55 wins a year after the team won just 41 games.
"It's a dream come true," Harden said of playing in D'Antoni's system.
He went on to explain why he believes D'Antoni has been so successful this season.
"He's confident in what he has," Harden said. "He's been doing it for so long so he knows that what he does and what he brings to the table works. And his personnel we just go out there and compete for him and try to win as many games for him."
Though relying heavily on 3-pointers has long been a hallmark of D'Antoni's offense, he's taken it to another level in Houston. The Rockets set an NBA record this season by making 1,181 3-pointers.
Houston finished the regular season with three of the top 10 3-point shooters in the league. Harden was third with 262, Eric Gordon ranked fourth with 246 and Ryan Anderson made 204 for ninth place.
His work in not only improving the Rockets overall, but getting the most out of his roster has made him a leading candidate for coach of the year.
"What he's so good at is really giving his players confidence and belief in what they're doing, and they're obviously believing," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "They're having an amazing year, and my guess is that Mike will get the trophy. He's earned it."
His players certainly feel the same way. They not appreciate his work with them on the court, but the vibe he created in the building from the moment he took over after the players struggled through a season where Kevin McHale was fired after just 11 games last year.
"He doesn't look at you as a number, he looks at you as a player," Patrick Beverley said. "He talks to you, you have conversations. You get a coach like that who not only cares about the basketball part but you as a person and as a man you're willing to run through walls for him and as you can tell that's what we've been trying to do this season."
D'Antoni is excited to see just how far this team can go. He isn't surprised by its success, but there are occasions where he steps back to think about just how thankful he is for this opportunity.
"You just appreciate them every day," D'Antoni said, "and it keeps growing."
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