Harden returns to haunt Thunder as Rockets stay alive
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma: James Harden scored 31 points as Houston kept their National Basketball Association (NBA) first-round play-off hopes alive with a 107-100 win over Oklahoma City in game five on Wednesday.
Playing against his former Thunder team-mates, Harden drained his first seven three-point attempts for the youthful Rockets who now trail the best-of-seven series three games to two.
“The guys are battling,” said Houston coach Kevin McHale. “You got to go out there and fight every single night.”
Harden, who helped lead the Thunder to the NBA finals last season where they lost to the Miami Heat, shot just four-of-25 from three-point range in the first four games against Oklahoma City.
Houston played without starting point guard Jeremy Lin for the second straight game because of a bruised chest muscle.
But the Thunder missed all-star point guard Russell Westbrook even more Wednesday. Westbrook tore his lateral meniscus, underwent surgery and is done for the season.
The teams head back to Houston for game six of the Western Conference series on Friday.
The Rockets will be trying to make history in this series as no NBA team has ever come back from being down 3-0 to win a best-of-seven series.
“We got another opportunity at home and we are going to take advantage of it,” Harden said. “Tomorrow we will watch some film and get ready for game six.”
Turkey’s Omer Asik finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds but his biggest impact came on the free-throw line down the stretch.
Asik made 13-of-18 free throws as he helped keep Houston in control late in the fourth quarter with the Thunder looking to foul him at every opportunity.
“He hit his free throws,” said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks. “He stepped up. Give him credit because he hit his shots. It is a strategy we don’t use very often.”
And it backfired on Wednesday against Houston which shot 47 percent from the floor, made 14 three-pointers and had six players score in double figures.
“He was great. He made most of them and that is all that matters,” Harden said of Asik.
The Thunder made just eight-of-33 from beyond the arc, losing for the second-consecutive game after winning the first three.
Kevin Durant was held scoreless in the fourth quarter and finished with 36 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder.
Reggie Jackson—starting in Westbrook’s place—had 20 points, while Serge Ibaka finished with 14 points and nine rebounds in the loss.