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Rockets gut out win over Thunder to go up 3-1

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The Rockets still didn’t play great, but they’re leaving Oklahoma City with a big lead in the series anyway.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t exactly pretty, but the Houston Rockets gutted out a 113-109 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Nene finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds on a perfect 12-12 from the field and brought some much-needed physicality and attitude to a Houston team that was being pushed around early on in the game. With many of the Rockets struggling, it was his spirited play that made the difference in the win.

James Harden finished with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists and shot just 5-16 from the field and 0-7 from deep in a sluggish performance, while big men Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela also struggled mightily for much of the game, so it was imperative that the veteran big man from Brazil stepped up to save the Rockets when he did.

Houston also got 18 points and 8 rebounds from Eric Gordon, 18 points from Lou Williams and 14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals from Trevor Ariza to help backup Nene’s effort.

The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook, who finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists, and he racked up a triple double by halftime. But he also took two back-to-back, ill-advised threes in the game’s closing moments to put the nail in the Thunder’s coffin.

The Rockets were fortunate to even be in the position to force some vintage Westbrook hero ball. They came out sluggish for the third consecutive game and fell behind by as many as 14 points in the first half.

They chipped away behind Nene, Gordon and Williams and some hack-a-Roberson strategy until finally taking the lead in the fourth quarter, and it was a gutsy win for the Rockets despite once again not being at their best.

They shot just 43 percent from the field, again couldn’t hit their threes, finishing only 11-35 from deep, and they were mostly pushed around for large stretches in the first half by a Thunder team that came out of the gates with more focus and energy. In fact, at times in the first half, the Rockets appeared like they didn’t even want to be there.

It’s actually quite remarkable that Houston is taking a 3-1 lead back to the Toyota Center, considering there’s not a single one of the first four games that one could look at and say, “That’s Rockets’ basketball.” But that also says something about both the character and chemistry of this group that they can grab these wins over a fellow playoff team featuring the league’s MVP while at no point appearing at their best.

The Thunder have to be exasperated at this point, with Westbrook getting significant help from from Victor Oladipo, who had 15 points on 7-10 from the field, and they also got 18 points and 7 rebounds from Steven Adams, 13 points and 5 blocks from Andre Roberson, and 10 points from Jerami Grant.

Game 5 is back at the Toyota Center on Tuesday night, and I have a feeling our heroes in red are just about due to put together a complete game and finish off this series. It makes me happy that my pre-series prediction of a gentleman’s sweep for the Rockets is still on the table, and I fully expect them to pull it off on Tuesday.