Houston Rockets Advance to Western Conference Semi-Finals

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James Harden Houston Rockets (Photo by Mark Downey Lucid Images/Corbis via Getty Images)

What was portrayed as series that would be a thrilling first-round matchup has ended early than expected. Despite the enticing one-on-one matchup of James Harden against Russell Westbrook, the #3 seed Houston Rockets have defeated the #6 seed Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. As a result of their first-round success, the Rockets advance to the Western Conference semi-finals.

Houston Rockets Advance to Western Conference Semi-Finals

Rockets Soar to Game One Victory

With home-court advantage working in their favor, the Rockets were able to get off on the right foot in Game One of their first-round series, taking the opening contest by a score of 118-87.

Thanks to an immense scoring performance from Harden, the Rockets lit up the scoreboard. Dropping 37 points, Harden helped the second-best offense in the NBA put forth a 118-point effort. The Thunder didn’t put up quite the same fight on the offensive end.

Finishing with just 87 points, the Thunder failed to even give the Rockets a run for their money. The low scoring was especially terrifying, given that the Rockets finished the year with the fifth-worst defense in the NBA, in terms of points per game. A big part of Oklahoma City’s inability to match the Rockets’ offensive firepower was Westbrook’s horrific shooting night.

Despite being a walking triple-double throughout the regular season, Westbrook struggled to get into a rhythm on the offensive end in Game One. Finishing the night with just 22 points on a lackluster 6-for-23 shooting, Westbrook was unable to replicate the heroic efforts that he put forth in the regular season. Guard Victor Oladipo also struggled, finishing the night with just six points and shooting an abysmal 1-for-12 from the field.

Both Westbrook and Oladipo’s underwhelming Game One performances put pressure on them and the rest of the Thunder to bounce back in Game Two. While they did find more success on the offensive end in their next affair, they ended up falling short again.

Rockets Go Up 2-0

After a rough outing as a group in Game One, the Thunder bounced back a bit in Game Two, but to no avail.

Led by a heroic and astonishing triple-double performance from Westbrook, the Thunder offense was given a jumpstart from their All-Star point guard. Dropping 51 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds, Westbrook put the Thunder on his back in an attempt to even up the series. Outside of Westbrook, though, the Thunder again produced very little.

Swingman Andre Roberson finished the night with 12 points. Oladipo and forward Doug McDermott each finished with 11. Outside of Westbrook, those three were OKC’s only player who finished in double digits. Despite all of that, the Thunder still led after the third quarter. Disaster then struck.

Houston outscored the Thunder by seven to take a lead late in Game Two, and the Rockets managed to hold onto it. A number of players contributed to Houston’s offensive attack. In addition to Harden’s 35 for the night, guards Eric Gordon and Lou Williams finished with 22 and 21 points, respectively, and point guard Patrick Beverley scored 15.

The Rockets’ team effort on the offensive end helped them take care of business and hold onto Game Two, winning 115-111. However, the Thunder battled back to make it a series on their home floor in Game Three.

Thunder Prevail in Game Three

After losing Games One and Two in Houston, the Thunder went into Game Three with a must-win mentality. It helped them get their first win of the series.

Despite a 44-point effort from Harden, the Thunder were able to outdo the Rockets offensively in Game Three. Led by Westbrook’s second straight triple-double (32 points, 11 assists, 12 rebounds), the Thunder went shot for shot with Houston all game. Outside of Westbrook, though, Oklahoma City executed well as a whole on the offensive end, which was key.

In addition to Westbrook’s offensive output, big man Taj Gibson finished the night with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting. The rest of the team had a balanced scoring output. Roberson and Oladipo chipped in just 12 points apiece, but outside of center Steven Adams, no player finished with less than five points. However, the Rockets didn’t let the Thunder score without a challenge on their part.

After trailing by 12 going into the fourth quarter, Houston mounted a comeback and tied up the contest in the final minutes. However, the Thunder regained the lead in the final moments thanks to a tip-in by Adams at the rim. The Rockets were still in position to take the lead back after Westbrook missed a free throw in the final seconds. But Westbrook’s miss, Harden couldn’t knock down would’ve been the game-winning three at the buzzer, resulting in a Thunder victory.

With a 115-113 win, the Thunder got their first victory of the series, putting them in a position to tie it up in Game Four.

Rockets Take Commanding 3-1 Series Lead

After their Game Three win, Oklahoma City came out firing in Game Four. Getting out to a 34-25 lead in the first quarter, the Thunder played with a will to win early on. However, that will wasn’t enough to hold off the Rockets, as OKC eventually lost 113-109 on its home court.

Despite being down by as many as 14 in the third, the Rockets found a way to come back and take the lead in the fourth quarter. What made their comeback special was that Harden had very little to do with their production throughout the duration of the game. Scoring just 16 points, Harden didn’t perform at an MVP level. However, the Rockets’ veterans made up for it.

Thanks to 18 points from both Gordon and Williams, as well as 14 from Trevor Ariza, Houston’s wings were able to pick up the slack for Harden’s woes. Big man Nene Hilario, though, had the biggest impact out of anyone for Houston.

Nene put up 28 points on a perfect 12-for-12 from the field, coming through for the Rockets when they needed someone to step up more than ever. Thanks to a team effort and a strong second-half comeback, the Rockets were able to take a commanding three games to one lead.

Rockets Win in Five

After their comeback win in Game Four, the Rockets came into Game Five smelling blood. Looking to close out the series, Houston was determined to close out OKC – which the Rockets did, despite a slow start.

While they kicked it into gear in the second quarter, the Rockets were held to just 16 points in the first. However, they still held the Thunder to just 22, preventing them from falling too far behind early on. As the game progressed, the Rockets were able to take control, grabbing a seven-point lead at halftime. In the second half, though, the Thunder fought back. After trailing by 10 in the third quarter, Westbrook propelled the Thunder back to take the lead. However, the Thunder slipped in the fourth quarter – when it mattered most.

Surrendering 33 points and getting outscored by 11 overall in the quarter, Oklahoma City fell behind in the fourth and, despite a late comeback, fell short, losing 105-99. At the end of the day, Harden’s and the Rockets’ ability to share the rock offensively was too much for Westbrook and the Thunder. OKC’s free throw shooting – especially from Roberson – also didn’t help them. Roberson shot an embarrassing 14.3 percent from the free throw line in the series.

Losing Game Five eliminated the Thunder from the playoffs, while the Rockets advance to the Western Conference semi-finals. Houston will now await the winner of the San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies series, which will determine the Rockets’ second-round matchup.

 

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