James Harden’s shooting touch deserted him, but the Houston star came up big on the defensive end in the Rockets’ 104-102 series-clinching win over Oklahoma City in the NBA playoffs yesterday.
Harden leapt to block a potential game-winning three-point attempt by Thunder rookie Luguentz Dort with 4.8 seconds remaining as the Rockets held on through a frantic finish to win the best-of-seven Western Conference series four games to three and book a second-round showdown with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat went down to the wire to take a 2-0 lead over the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in their Eastern Conference second-round series.
Jimmy Butler, fouled on a potential game-winner at the buzzer, calmly made two free throws to seal a 116-114 victory.
GoranDragic scored 23 points — his sixth straight playoff game with at least 20 — to lead seven Heat players in double figures.
In a closely contested game, Houston took the lead for good, 103-102, on PJ Tucker’s driving basket with 1:25 remaining.
The ball changed hands several times before the Thunder got it into the hands of the red-hot Dort, whose dream night was ended by Harden’s big block.
Houston’s Robert Covington drained a free throw with 1.4 seconds left to make it 104-102.
Then Harden was called for a foul on DaniloGallinari before the ball was inbounded, giving the Thunder a free throw and the ball.
Gallinari missed from the foul line and the Thunder turned the ball over on the final inbounds pass.
“I couldn’t make a shot, turning the ball over, just everything that was not supposed to happen,” said Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer who had just 17 points on four-of-15 shooting.
“But I just kept sticking with it,” he said. “Defensively I had to make a play.”
Covington and Eric Gordon scored 21 points apiece for the Rockets. Covington also pulled down 10 rebounds and Russell Westbrook added 20 points for Houston against his former team.
Dort, a 21-year-old undrafted Canadian, scored a career-best 30 points for the Thunder and Chris Paul, who was traded for Westbrook prior to the season, added a triple-double of 19 points 12 assists and 11 rebounds for Oklahoma City.*AFP