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Sports

April 24, 2013

Thunder respond to Houston rally, win 105-102

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each scored 29 points, and the Oklahoma City Thunder recovered after squandering a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter to beat the Houston Rockets 105-102 on Wednesday night and take a 2-0 series lead.

Durant hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:28 to play, and the Thunder didn't relinquish the lead after that. Durant missed a free throw with 1 second left, but Houston was out of timeouts and Carlos Delfino couldn't connect on a desperation shot at the final buzzer.

James Harden scored 36 points and spearheaded a 21-2 comeback that wiped out the big deficit and put the Rockets up 95-91. But the top-seeded Thunder were able to respond and protect the home-court advantage they'd spent all season earning.

Game 3 is Saturday night in Houston.

The Thunder's big lead melted away with nine straight empty possessions as the Rockets mixed in a zone defense. Harden was able to get into the lane to create his own opportunities, and he also kicked the ball out to set up two 3-pointers by Delfino. His second 3, from the right wing, provided a four-point lead with 3:27 to go.

Oklahoma City came back to tie it before Harden knifed to the basket for a layup to give Houston its last lead at 97-95 with 2:42 to play. Durant answered right away with a deep 3 from the left wing at the opposite end, and the Thunder came up with back-to-back stops before Thabo Sefolosha's 3 provided a little breathing room at 101-97.

Serge Ibaka added a long jumper to make it 103-98 after Durant was forced to give up the ball. Durant and Kevin Martin, both in the top 5 in the league in free-throw percentage, both went 1 for 2 at the foul line in the final 12 seconds to give the Rockets one last chance.

Backup Patrick Beverley moved into the starting lineup as Houston went with a three-guard unit, and it didn't take long for the rookie to get under Westbrook's thin skin. Beverley lunged for a steal as Westbrook stopped to call a timeout after Houston took a 42-41 lead midway through the second quarter, with his hip slamming into Westbrook's right knee.

Westbrook smashed his right hand onto the scorer's table in anger and hobbled back to the huddle, but was able to stay in the game. He stripped Beverley for a runout layup two possessions later, but the Thunder still couldn't shake free.

Another rookie, Greg Smith, drew a technical foul when he jawed at Ibaka after dunking on the NBA's top shot-blocker and Houston was still within 57-55 at halftime.

Just after Harden's driving throwdown put Houston ahead 63-61, Oklahoma City raged back with a string of 13 straight points with Ibaka keying the run. He swatted Omer Asik's dunk attempt, hit two free throws and grabbed an offensive rebound that set up Westbrook's three-point play. The Thunder started the fourth quarter with an 11-2 to run to push their lead to 89-74 after Martin's 3-pointer with 9:22 to go.

Coach Kevin McHale called time out, and the Rockets immediately responded with Beverley's 3-pointer off a set play — and that was only the beginning of the comeback.

The Rockets made a concerted effort to draw charges against Westbrook after McHale's complaints that he was allowed to make uncontested straight-line drives to the hoop in Game 1.

"Normally, when a guy starts his drive 10 feet on the other side of half court, you can line him up a little bit. He is pretty shifty, but I think we might be able to line that one up," McHale said sarcastically before the game.

Sure enough, Asik sent him to the bench by drawing a charge — Westbrook's second foul in the first 6 minutes — and he had to come out again when he was whistled for another offensive foul for clearing out Beverley with his forearm on a transition drive with just under 2 minutes to go before the half.

Notes: Beverley had not started any games during his rookie season, moving into the rotation midway through the season and playing 41 games. ... After finishing second to Tyson Chandler last year's voting for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Ibaka was third this year behind Marc Gasol and LeBron James. Ibaka has led the NBA in total blocks the past three seasons. "He led the league three years in blocks. I guess that don't mean nothing nowadays," frontcourt partner Kendrick Perkins said. "At the end of the day, I think he deserves it. He should have won the thing. But it's over with, so we're just going to move on." ... After saying he thought nerves were a factor for a number of Rockets players making their playoff debuts in Game 1, McHale was asked if they'd be settled down for Game 2. "This is their second playoff game, so they're grizzled veterans," he responded.

 

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