Thunder diffuse Rockets in six games
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON — Kevin Durant texted Kevin Martin after his terrible performance in Game 5 to send words of encouragement, and tell him he knew Martin would bounce back on Friday night.
Durant couldn’t have been more right, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are advancing in the NBA playoffs.
Durant scored 27 points and Martin added 25 to lead the Thunder to a 103-94 victory over the Houston Rockets, sending them to the second round for the third straight season.
The Thunder will host Memphis on Sunday afternoon.
Martin, who joined the Thunder in the trade for James Harden, rebounded from a tough Game 5. He missed his first nine shots Wednesday and finished with three points. Things were much difference in Game 6, when he had 21 points by halftime.
“I had faith that he was going to come out and be aggressive and have a really good game,” Durant said of Martin. “He’s a big-time scorer. He carried us in that first half when I was struggling.”
The Rockets were looking to become just the fourth team in NBA history to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0.
But the Thunder opened the fourth quarter with a big run to take the lead and cruise to the victory.
Martin finally gave the Thunder someone to take scoring pressure off Durant for the first time since All-Star guard Russell Westbrook had season-ending knee surgery. He had 21 points by halftime and Westbrook’s replacement, Reggie Jackson, helped out by scoring 17.
“It was just coming in there, trying to set a tone,” Martin said. “The last 48 hours after Game 5, I couldn’t even look my teammates in the eye because I felt so bad. It was going in there and playing like I have been in my career and jump-starting us to a victory.”
Jackson also had seven rebounds, eight assists and just two turnovers.
“That was one of our best Thunder team wins that we’ve had all season,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “The guys really laid everything on the line, and that’s what playoff basketball is all about. That’s what team basketball is all about, and I liked the guys’ commitment to helping each other out.”
Durant, who also had eight rebounds and six assists, likes the way the team has grown in the four games since Westbrook was injured.
“It’s making us stronger,” he said of dealing with adversity. “We definitely had to come together. We struggled at times, but that’s all part of the journey.”
Harden, who the Rockets said had strep throat on Thursday, led Houston with 26 points.
Oklahoma City used a 14-4 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to take a 92-81 lead. Derek Fisher and Durant both hit 3-pointers in that stretch. Houston missed six shots, including two layups, and had two turnovers as the Thunder built the lead.
Harden made a 3-pointer after that, but Fisher stole the ball from him on the next possession and Durant finished with an exclamation-point dunk, and Houston didn’t threaten after that.
“We were just stagnant and from there on out we couldn’t get any movement and really couldn’t get any shots off,” Harden said.
Brooks said the importance of Fisher to his team couldn’t be overstated.
“He has made our team better,” Brooks said. “His spirit of doing it every day is something all teams should strive for. What I saw tonight was some of the most inspired play I’ve ever seen as a player and as a coach.”
Fisher finished with 11 points, four rebounds and two steals.
The Rockets’ plan of double- and triple-teaming Durant and daring someone else to beat them worked in the previous two games as they cut the deficit to 3-2. On Friday, Martin knocked down shot after shot and had outscored Durant by 12 points by halftime.
Houston got 25 points from Chandler Parsons, while Omer Asik had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
“I’m at a loss for words right now,” Houston’s Patrick Beverley said. “My mind is set to play Game 7. It’s frustrating right now.”
Houston opened the third quarter with a barrage of 3-pointers. Francisco Garcia sank one to start the period and Parsons hit three more to help the Rockets build a 68-62 lead with about 7 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.
The Rockets pushed the lead to 10 points a couple of minutes later before Jackson scored five quick points to get Oklahoma City within 72-67.
That was the beginning of a 10-2 spurt for the Thunder that helped them tie it at 74 on a putback by Durant with about three minutes remaining in the quarter. Oklahoma City led 78-77 entering the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma City limited Houston to 23 points in the third period Friday after allowing the Rockets to score 38 and 37 points, respectively, in the third quarters of the last two games.
Houston was playing without key reserve Carlos Delfino, who has a bone fracture in his right foot that will require surgery.
Jeremy Lin didn’t start, but played for the first time since Game 3. He entered with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter. He had missed the last two games with a bruised chest muscle.
He had just three points.
Houston led by five points late in the first quarter before Oklahoma City used a 12-2 run to take a 36-31 lead about nine minutes before halftime. Fisher and Martin made consecutive 3s to cap that run.
Martin made a pair of free throws to finish his big first half before Harden swished a 3-pointer to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 58-54 at halftime.
Things got testy early, with Garcia and Kendrick Perkins pushing each other after a foul by Garcia and each getting technical fouls in the first quarter. Garcia simmered down pretty quickly, but Perkins had to be pulled away by teammates.
After things settled down, Perkins inexplicably dropped to the court and did several push-ups.
Another scuffle just before halftime resulted in technicals on both Asik and Durant.
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