In Game 1 of the marquee matchup between teammates-turned-MVP frontrunners Russell Westbrook and James Harden on Sunday night, the latter walked away victorious.
Harden, who led his Houston Rockets to a commanding 118-87 win, finished with 37 points (on 13-of-28 shooting), nine assists and seven rebounds in 34 minutes. He struggled from beyond the arc (three-of-11), but hit a pair of threes midway through the fourth quarter to help put the game away for good.
He also had his fair share of highlight-reel moments — most notably his crossover of Thunder big man Enes Kanter en route to a wide-open layup.
"(Slowing down Westbrook) was a team effort," Beverley said. "We just try to show him a lot of bodies, try to make it as tough as possible on him. We understand that he's one of the most explosive guards in this league. Can't one person guard him, of course, we understand that. Just try to make it tough on him, try to make him shoot a lot of contested threes, and tonight I guess we got lucky."
Westbrook didn't have much help from his teammates, either. Other than defensive specialist Andre Roberson, who finished with 18 points (one shy of career-high), shooting guard Victor Oladipo made just one of his 12 shot attempts (8.3%) and finished with six points in what was a disappointing playoff debut.
It was more of the same in the frontcourt, as Steven Adams and Taj Gibson had just six and five points, respectively, and were dominated on the boards. The Thunder entered the postseason as the No. 1 rebounding team in the NBA, but were outrebounded 56-41 by Nene, Clint Capela and Co.
The Rockets, who went into the half with a five-point lead, began to run away with the game midway through the third quarter, shortly after Adams set a hard screen on Beverley to set up a wide-open three for Roberson, which brought the Thunder within two. A couple of possessions later, Beverley hit a pair of corner three-pointers, which added to Houston's 25-12 run to close out the quarter.
Harden praised Beverley after the game, who finished with a postseason career-high 21 points and 10 rebounds.
"He brings it every game. Whether his shot is falling or not, he brings that intensity, that dog that we need," Harden said. "Tonight, he made shots and was aggressive. He rebounded the ball at a high level, which he's been doing lately. He was just Pat tonight."
The Rockets and Thunder meet for Game 2 Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.
"We've been here before," Westbrook said. " ... It's first one to four (games). They won one on their homecourt and regardless of if you win by 20, two, 40, it doesn't matter. It's still 1-0 and we've got to come back and be ready to play for the next one."
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