Houston Rockets dump Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder to claim series in five games

By MoiseKapenda Bower, The Sports Xchange   |   April 26, 2017 at 11:18 AM
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HOUSTON -- Rockets guard Patrick Beverley was the last member of the Houston organization to make his way to the postgame podium to outline the defensive strategy employed against Russell Westbrook, a plan of attack that involved first throwing any number of bodies at the Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star and then hoping for the best.

With Westbrook recharging on the bench one final time during the series, Rockets reserve guard Lou Williams scored 10 points during an opening burst in the fourth quarter, sparking another late Rockets rally.

Houston emerged with a 105-99 win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday night at Toyota Center, sealing the Western Conference first-round playoff series in five games.

Williams tallied five free throws, a basket awarded thanks to a goaltending call on Thunder forward Jerami Grant, and a deep 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 86-81. When Westbrook returned with 9:15 left in the game, the Rockets were in the midst of a 16-4 run that not only put Houston ahead to stay, but also served as a microcosm for what the Rockets aimed to accomplish whenever Westbrook sat.

"That's how we played the whole series," Williams said. "You've got to tip your hat to Russell for the type of season that he had, the type of series that he had. We understand what he brings to the table, we understand how important he is to that group of guys. We he goes out, every time we have to make them pay for that."

Westbrook finished with 47 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, but he shot 2 for 11 in the final period, including 0 of 5 on 3-point attempts. After almost singlehandedly erasing the Rockets' 11-point lead in the third quarter, Westbrook ran out of gas again in the fourth quarter. He did the same en route to his 51-point triple-double in Game 2, shooting 4 of 18 in the fourth as Houston rallied.

Westbrook didn't blink when asked if he was fond of the shots he took late.

"I liked them," he said.

The Rockets liked them, too, and they were content to let Westbrook fire away after attempting to wear him down with multiple defenders and varying coverages. Their ability to wait out Westbrook played a role in advancing to the Western Conference semifinals, where they will face either the San Antonio Spurs or the Memphis Grizzlies.

"You just hope he does have a little human in him," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said of Westbrook. "(Fatigue) has got to eventually come out a little bit."

Rockets guard James Harden overcame another poor shooting performance from the floor (8 of 25) and finished with a team-high 34 points. He was 16 of 17 from the free-throw line. Williams totaled 22 points, while Beverley added 15 points and eight rebounds. Eric Gordon and Nene combined for 22 points off the bench as Rockets reserves posted a 44-22 advantage.

Houston shot just 6 for 37 (16.2 percent) on 3-pointers yet managed another pair of 30-plus-point periods. In outscoring the Thunder 33-22 in the fourth, the Rockets closed the series with a 161-111 advantage in fourth-quarter scoring.

"Their defense is very, very underrated," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "Their level of intensity defensively as the game goes on keeps going up and up and up and up. I think some of the fourth quarters for us ... a contributing factor could be maybe some fatigue, and them defensively doing a really good job."

After surging to a 61-50 lead at the 7:14 mark of the third, the Rockets went ice cold, converting just three baskets the remainder of the period. Westbrook was sensational in response, scoring 10 consecutive points during one stretch before assisting on a Steven Adams floater for a 69-68 lead. Westbrook produced 20 points, five rebounds and three assists in the period and combined with the Rockets' 1-for-13 shooting on 3s, the Thunder took a 77-72 lead into the fourth.

But after the seized the lead with Westbrook on the bench, the Rockets watched as he struggled to reclaim his shooting stroke. Grant and Alex Abrines shared second-leading scorer honors with 11 points. With Westbrook doing what he could before tiring and his teammates falling short, it all looked so familiar.

"Collectively as a unit we've done a great job on him," Beverley said of Westbrook. "We tried to make him shoot a lot of tough shots, and the numbers show it."

NOTES: Rockets owner Leslie Alexander confronted official Bill Kennedy during game action in the first half. Alexander walked from his courtside seat and said something to Kennedy before returning to sit down. Alexander refused comment on what exactly he said but acknowledged that he was "upset." ... Thunder C Enes Kanter, a lightning rod throughout the series, logged just three minutes, all in the first half. He did not score, and he committed two fouls. ... The Rockets finished plus-56 with Thunder G Russell Westbrook on the bench during the five-game series.

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