The Houston Rockets advanced to the semifinals of the Western Conference NBA playoffs with a hard-fought 105-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder to close out their first-round series in five games.
James Harden led the Rockets in scoring with 34 points to go along with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks, but he was still noticeably off from range, knocking down just 8-25 from the field and 2-13 from deep.
It was actually Lou Williams who, as he’s done all series, stepped up to provide a huge offensive spark off the bench. He finished with 22 points on 7-14 from the field, and it was his play that kept the Rockets alive when the Thunder were making a late push to live another day. Twelve of Sweet Lou’s points came in the decisive fourth quarter.
The Thunder were of course led by Russell Westbrook, who finished with 47 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists, but as was also the case all series, he was mostly hot garbage in the fourth quarter. Russ shot just 2-11 from the field and 0-5 from three in the final frame, including some patented Westbrook hero ball that featured several ill-advised chucks.
Of course, to hear the TNT announcers say it, Russ was fatigued, but the fourth-quarter chuckfest has been Westbrook’s M.O. all series, and it’s one of the reasons the Thunder are going fishing, while the Rockets get some much-needed rest before the second round starts.
In addition to Harden and Lou, the Rockets also got 15 points and 8 rebounds from Patrick Beverley, who also annoyed Westbrook into a double technical, and they also got 14 points and 7 rebounds from Nene, who continued to spell an often-ineffectual Clint Capela and was the best big man on the floor for either team.
This win came despite the recurring bad Houston playoff habit of starting out of the gates slow, as the Rockets scored just 16 points in the first period, shooting just only 7-21 from the field and 1-7 from three. That cold shooting from deep that’s plagued them all series continued for the entire game, as the Rockets finished just a miniscule 6-37 from beyond the arc.
But in another of the series’ recurring themes, the Rockets found other ways to win, outscoring the Thunder in the paint 50-38.
This was again far from a perfect game for Houston. Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza were both still invisible. Ryno finished 0-3 from deep for the game for 2 points and was 3-24 from three for the series, while Trev also had just 2 points on 0-5 shooting from deep. Ariza is now 7-44 from beyond the arc in his last two playoff series. That has to change if the Rockets are to get past the second round.
Capela also struggled again with the game’s physicality, though he did bounce back defensively in the second half to finish with 4 blocks, including two big ones down the stretch. He’ll also need to be better for the Rockets to have Western Conference Finals dreams.
It’ll be good, however, to get The Beard some rest for his ailing ankle and the entire team some practice with the three-ball before the next series starts, but for now, let’s all bask in the glow of knocking out the Thunder and the likely MVP in a first-round gentleman’s sweep. In the meantime, I will be basking the glow of being the only TDS writer to correctly pick the exact five-game outcome of this series in our pre-playoff roundtable.
Bye, Thunder. Bye, Russ. Hope you enjoy that gift MVP trophy from your couch.