Harden powers past illness, lifts Rockets
AP Sports Writer
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OKLAHOMA CITY — James Harden lacked the energy to get through a morning shoot-around. Then he found the strength to fill the Houston Rockets with life in a playoff series that had started to look hopeless.
Harden scored 31 points and sank seven 3-pointers while fighting flu-like symptoms, and the Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-100 Wednesday night to pull within 3-2 in their first-round playoff series.
Harden made the first seven 3s he tried and Houston led by as many as 16 to win its second straight, getting halfway to becoming the first team in NBA history to overcome an 0-3 series deficit.
“I just tried to go out there and give it all I had,” said Harden, adding that he slept all day. “It was a win or go home, so I got some shots to fall and I just tried to not think about it.”
The Rockets played without starting point guard Jeremy Lin for the second straight game because of a bruised chest muscle. Key reserve Carlos Delfino didn’t play in the second half because of a sore left foot.
They still had plenty of offense, getting 21 points and 11 rebounds from Omer Asik and 18 points and five 3-pointers from Francisco Garcia. Patrick Beverley scored 14 and Aaron Brooks and Chandler Parsons chipped in 10 apiece.
“We just came out here and played pressure-free. Go out there and just hoop, that was our mindset going into the game,” Harden said. “The same thing back at home: just go out there and hoop. We’re an eighth seed. Nobody’s expecting us to win. So just give it what we’ve got. Simple.”
Oklahoma City eliminated half of Houston’s big lead before managing to stymie its own comeback.
Apparently doubting they could overcome an eight-point lead on their home court without All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, the Thunder resorted to intentionally fouling Asik — a 54 percent career foul shooter — with 5:33 to play. Asik went 8 for 12 from the line, extending Houston’s lead to 101-92 with 3:53 remaining before Oklahoma City gave up the tactic.
Kevin Durant scored 36 points for Oklahoma City, which must now travel to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night. Durant was scoreless in the fourth quarter, missing all five of his shots, and picked up a technical foul with 22.5 seconds left for complaining to referee Bill Spooner.
“We was on our way back and then also the Hack-a-whatever-his-name-is,” Durant said, forgetting Asik’s name, “it kind of slowed the rhythm down a little bit.”
Coach Scott Brooks said he was about to stop ordering the fouls against Asik if his team had made a shot on one particular possession. It didn’t happen and the 7-footer from Turkey made him pay.
“Give him credit. He stepped up and made shots and made his free throws,” Brooks said. “That’s a strategy we don’t use often.”
Asik missed three of his first six free throws, and the Thunder continued fouling him intentionally even after getting within 98-92 with 4:12 remaining. Asik hit three of his next four and then blocked a shot by Thabo Sefolosha as Houston started extending its lead again.
Reggie Jackson contributed 20 points for the Thunder, who leaned heavily on Durant for a third straight game with Westbrook out for the playoffs with a right knee injury. Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City’s sixth man who was acquired in a preseason trade for Harden, missed his first nine shots before making a jumper in the fourth quarter to finish with three points.
“They miss him everywhere. How would you not? He’s one of the top players in the league,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “They probably miss him in the locker room, miss him in shoot-around, miss him on the bus, miss him on the plane, miss him on offense, miss him on defense. Did I miss anything?”
The Rockets made a series-high 14 3-pointers on 35 attempts, making up for getting outscored in the paint, in second-chance points and on the fast break. Oklahoma City made just 8 of 33 from 3-point range, missing 14 of its first 15 attempts.
Beverley, who made a lunging attempt at a steal in Game 2 that resulted in the knee injury that knocked out Westbrook, received a hearty boo during pregame introductions, then got booed again each time he touched the ball.
Undeterred, he drove against Jackson for the first basket of the game and the Rockets got out to a strong start. Beverley was called for a technical foul for thrusting his left forearm into Jackson after the Thunder guard made a steal attempt similar to the one that ended up with Westbrook getting hurt.
“My teammates told me to come out here and stay aggressive. This is a family unit with this team,” Beverley said. “I tried to not hear the boos and tried to go out and stay focused on the game plan today.”
Durant hit the free throw after Beverley’s technical to complete a string of eight straight Oklahoma City points and put the Thunder up 17-16 but Houston responded with its own 8-0 run and wouldn’t trail again.
NOTES: Westbrook watched the game from a suite. He was unable to be on the bench because his leg needed to be extended. … With the clock running down at the end of the game, McHale told Harden to “go ahead and shoot it if you like,” but Harden opted to take the shot-clock violation. Derek Fisher popped in a 3-pointer for Oklahoma City at the final buzzer.
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