Lake Buena Vista, Florida: James Harden made up for a miserable shooting night with a big blocked shot, Russell Westbrook scored 20 points against his former team and the Houston Rockets edged the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-102 on Thursday (AEST) in game seven of the first-round series.
The Rockets pulled out a tense final game of the first round that lasted long past the final basket as replays and fouls were sorted out.
In the end, Houston prevailed to set up a second-round match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers that begins Saturday (AEST) despite Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer, going four for 15 from the field.
The frantic final seconds of a game that was tight throughout had Houston take the lead for good at 103-102 when P.J. Tucker scored with 1:25 remaining. After changes of possession, the Thunder got the ball to Lu Dort, who attempted a three-pointer that Harden blocked with 4.8 seconds left.
Robert Covington made a free throw with 1.4 seconds to go and Harden was whistled for fouling Danilo Gallinari before the ball was inbounded, giving the Thunder one free throw and the ball. But Gallinari missed the free throw and the Thunder turned it over on the last inbounds pass.
Covington had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Eric Gordon also scored 21 points for the Rockets. Harden finished with 17 points and nine assists.
Dort scored a career-best 30 points for the Thunder, Chris Paul, swapped for Westbrook over the summer, had 19 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds.
It was a wild conclusion to a strange series in which the Rockets won games one and two handily and game five by 34, the biggest margin in franchise post-season history, but hadn’t come through in the close ones. Oklahoma City took game three in overtime by outscoring Houston 15-3, the largest overtime point differential in NBA history, and pulled out game four by three points and game six by four.
The Rockets had no chance of winning this one in a rout thanks largely to Harden’s struggles. He missed 10 of his 12 shots through three quarters but were ahead 85-80 behind a strong performance from Westbrook, who missed the first four games of the series with a strained right quadriceps.
Covington then hit a couple key three-pointers in the fourth and Harden made two of his three shots in the period, including a basket that snapped a 99-all tie.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler made two free throws with no time remaining on the clock, capping a wild finish that featured two controversial calls by the referees and giving the fifth-seeded Miami Heat a second straight win over the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, 116-114 in game two of the eastern conference semi-finals.
After posting a 115-104 win in game one, the Heat appeared to be in command with a 113-107 advantage with less than 20 seconds to go.
Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo then threw down a dunk, and Brook Lopez stole Butler’s inbounds pass, converting a lay-up that trimmed the gap to two with 8.5 seconds left.
After Butler made just one of two free throws for a 114-111 lead with 7.7 seconds left, Goran Dragic was called for a debated brush foul on a Khris Middleton three-point attempt. When Middleton made all three of his foul shots, the game shockingly was tied with 4.3 seconds remaining.
That was enough time for Butler to benefit from a similar touch foul at the other end on a corner jumper he got off just before the horn. Antetokounmpo was whistled for putting a hand on Butler’s hip during the follow through, setting up the game-winning free throws.