No. 3 Houston Rockets vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder
As far as first-round matchups go, it doesn't get much better than this, as James Harden and Russell Westbrook — the NBA's top-two MVP candidates — are set to go toe-to-toe at least four games in a row. What's more, the first three times these teams met in the regular season, the games were decided by a combined seven points.
- Game 1 - at Rockets, Sunday, April 16, Rockets 118, Thunder 87
- Game 2 - at Rockets, Wednesday, April 19, rockets 115, thunder 111
- Game 3 - at Thunder, Friday, April 21, Thunder 115, Rockets 113
- Game 4 - at Thunder, Sunday, April 23, Rockets 113, Thunder 109
- Game 5 - at Rockets, Tuesday, April 25, Rockets 105, 99
Season series - Rockets won 3-1.
- Rockets - Patrick Beverley (9.5 ppg, 4.2 apg, 5.8 rpg), James Harden (29.1 ppg, 11.2 apg, 8.1 rpg), Trevor Ariza (11.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.1 apg), Ryan Anderson (13.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.9 apg), Clint Capela (12.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.2 bpg)
- Thunder - Russell Westbrook (31.9 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 10.4 apg), Victor Oladipo (16 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.6 apg), Andre Roberson (6.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1 apg), Taj Gibson (8.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.6 apg), Steven Adams (11.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1 bpg)
Rockets win if - They make shots. We hate to say it's that simple, but if any combination of Harden, Anderson, Ariza, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams get hot, the Rockets have the firepower to beat anyone.
Thunder win if - Westbrook gets some help offensively (particularly from shooters), Roberson's defense frustrates Harden (significantly) and the bigs dominate the glass and cash in on second-chance opportunities.
Need to know:
- Rockets - Set the NBA record for single-season three-pointers made.
- Thunder - Are 33-9 when Westbrook records a triple-double.
NBA investigating why Rockets owner Les Alexander spoke with ref
Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander’s short stroll down the Toyota Center sideline on Tuesday night might cost him.
In the final seconds of the first quarter of his team’s Game 5 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Alexander could be seen walking approximately 20 feet to have a word with official Billy Kennedy. After speaking his mind briefly, he can be seen returning to his courtside seat.
When you really want to make your point pic.twitter.com/tISPryd3ZK— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 26, 2017
Not long after the incident, NBA spokesman Mike Bass made it clear that Alexander - who has owned the Rockets since 1993 - got their attention.
“An investigation is underway,” Bass said in a statement.
Alexander declined comment when approached by the Houston Chronicle’s Jenny Dial Creech, saying only that he was “Upset; really upset.” And for once, the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban wasn’t the Texas-based NBA owner sparking headlines with official-related behavior.
Cuban has been fined several times for incidents with officials, most recently on Jan. 18, 2014 when he was hit with a $100,000 penalty for “confronting refs and using inappropriate language.” He racked up a whopping $450,000 for official-related fines in 2006 alone, with $250,000 relating to “several acts of misconduct” after Game 5 of the NBA Finals and two separate fines of $100,000 apiece (one for going on the court in Game 1 of a second-round series, and the other for critical comments he made on his blog).
GAME 5: Rockets 105, Thunder 99
Rockets get best of Westbrook, eliminate Thunder
By Sam Amick, USA Today Sports
The Houston Rockets survived the Russell Westbrook storm on Tuesday night, downing the Oklahoma City Thunder 105-99 at the Toyota Center to finish their first-round series in five games.
Houston, which went from an eighth seed a year ago to a third seed that has earned the distinction of darkhorse title contender, will face the winner of the San Antonio Spurs-Memphis Grizzlies series in the second round (the Spurs took a 3-2 series lead with a 116-103 win Tuesday). If only Westbrook’s teammates would have found a way to help, this one might have been different.
No matter how angry Westbrook was in his postgame session with reporters on Sunday, when he grew surly with a local columnist who inquired about the Thunder’s elephant-in-the-room problem of playing poorly without him, that harsh reality remained true two nights later.
After Oklahoma City rallied from a 51-44 halftime deficit to lead 77-72 entering the fourth quarter, with Westbrook scoring 20 of his 47 points in the third, the Rockets exploded on a 14-4 run while Westbrook was on the bench. According to NBA.com/stats, the Thunder were a plus-15 for the series when Westbrook played (194 minutes) and minus-58 when he sat (46 minutes). By comparison, the Rockets were a plus-19 with fellow MVP candidate James Harden on the floor (187) and plus-24 when he sat (53 minutes). In the end, that inverse trend was the Thunder's undoing.
In this series that was billed as an MVP faceoff, Harden won out because he had the kind of offensive help the Thunder sorely lack. Harden finished with 34 points (eight of 25 shooting), eight rebounds and four assists. Rockets reserve Lou Williams, who came their way via trade with the Lakers in February, had 22 points. Houston won despite struggling from beyond the arc, as they hit just six of 37 from beyond the arc.
"Everything isn't always going to be perfect," Harden said. "You've got guys that step up and help you make big plays, always have your back ... we're not worried about our shooting, our shooting is going to come."
Westbrook – who also had 11 rebounds, nine assists, and seven turnovers – finished 15 of 34 overall (five of 18 from three-point range). Thunder guard Victor Oladipo, who was the closest thing Westbrook had to a sidekick this season after Kevin Durant left for the Golden State Warriors in free agency, missed 13 of 17 shots and had just 10 points.
"I consider it a good season," Westbrook told reporters. "I think from myself to every guy down in that locker room did an amazing job all year long. We can be nothing but proud of them. I'm just happy to have the opportunity to play with all these guys. They do an amazing job of making the game easy for me."
Westbrook kept fighting until the end, hitting a putback layup while getting fouled with 12 seconds left to cut the Rockets' lead to four. Westbrook missed the ensuing free throw intentionally with the hopes of a Thunder offensive rebound, but the Rockets' Eric Gordon corralled it. Not long before, the entertaining matchup between Westbrook and feisty Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley had come to a head, too.
As Westbrook grew frustrated during the fourth quarter in which he eventually hit just two of 11 shots, he exchanged words with Beverley after an Oladipo turnover with 7:23 remaining. When later asked about the exchange that resulted in double technical fouls, Westbrook didn't hold back.
"Oh yeah, (Beverley) was talking about (how) he was first-team all-defense, (but) I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about because I had 42 (points) at the time," Westbrook told reporters in Houston. "The series – I don’t know what he’s talking about. Maybe he’s dreaming or some (expletive). I don’t know. Sorry. Excuse my cuss word. I don’t know what he was talking about, but I guess he wants to be first-team all-defense or something and maybe he was dreaming about it. I don’t know."
Even with the loss, Westbrook’s regular season heroics won’t soon be forgotten. By averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game, he became just the second player in league history to average a triple-double for an entire season. Oscar Robertson, who deemed Westbrook the new “Triple Double King” in a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports, achieved that feat for the Cincinnati Royals in the 1961-62 season. And the Thunder, who some believed might struggle to even make the playoffs, recovered admirably from Durant's departure. En route to earning the sixth-seed, they won just eight fewer games without Durant in the regular season than they had in his final season in Oklahoma City (47-35 compared to 55-27).
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Westbrook goes on rant defending Thunder teammates
By the Associated Press
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook went on a rant defending his teammates after Sunday's 113-109 loss to the Houston Rockets.
A recurring theme throughout the series has been Oklahoma City's tendency to lose leads when Westbrook sits in the second half. It happened again on Sunday __ the Thunder were outscored 13-4 in a stretch that lasted from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth. The lapse turned a 75-68 lead into an 81-79 deficit.
Thunder center Steven Adams was asked about the issue, and Westbrook interrupted .
Russell Westbrook goes off on reporter who asks about team's play while he's on the bench pic.twitter.com/oikTf0GxCj— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 23, 2017
"Hold on Steven," Westbrook said. "I don't want nobody to try and split us up. We're all one team. If I go to the bench and Steven's on the floor and I'm off the floor, we're in this together. Don't split us up. Don't try and split us up. Don't try to make us go against each other or make it Russell and the rest of the guys. Russell against Houston. I don't want to hear that. We're in this together. We play as a team. That's all that matters."
When pressed on the matter, Westbrook became more agitated, repeatedly saying "Next question."
"Say 'Russell, the team hasn't played well,'" he said. "Don't say, 'when Russell goes out the team doesn't play well.' That doesn't matter. We're in this together."
Game 4: Rockets 113, Thunder 109
Harden, Rockets seize control of series vs. Thunder using new formula
By Sam Amick, USA Today Sports
The team that prides itself on never taking midrange jumpers is one step closer to the second round of the NBA playoffs because of one.
The team that some might suspect was born out of an Ivy League math class is up 3-1 on the Oklahoma City Thunder because it showed the kind of toughness that can’t be measured on a calculator.
If the Houston Rockets keep this up, they might take this fascinating formula all the way to the Finals. The league’s most interesting team, this bunch that is headed by the resident analytics leader (general manager Daryl Morey), the creative coach who’s in the midst of a renaissance (Mike D’Antoni) and the star who makes it all go (James Harden), won 113-109 in Game 4 on Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. And the Rockets did it in the kind of counter intuitive fashion that served as a reminder of how good they can be.
This effort could not only end the Thunder’s season on Tuesday, but it might give the heavyweights like Golden State and San Antonio a serious push down the line. This is the kind of nuanced development that could convince the masses that the Rockets are for real.
And it wouldn’t have happened if Harden didn’t break protocol at the perfect time.
With 41.8 seconds left and the Thunder trying for the series split heading into Game 5 on Tuesday, Harden buried a stepback jumper from the free throw line over Victor Oladipo that put Houston up five and was the antithesis of Rockets basketball. All season long, the Rockets had made their way to a 55-win campaign by shooting only three-pointers and layups. They played the percentages, breaking the NBA records for three-pointers taken and made while making it abundantly clear at every turn that no midrange shots were allowed.
They pushed this mathematical envelope in unprecedented form, building a roster that was well-equipped to game the system and put together the kind of winner that no one saw coming. And this time, Harden went against their grain to get the job done.
“You get the best shot available, you know?” Harden, who struggled to a 16-point, seven-turnover outing, told USA TODAY Sports about his final shot. “That’s what it was. That’s what was available, so I took it.
“I was just driving. The lane clogged up once again, and I just tried to create as much separation as I could, which is what I work on every single day. Take the shot and make it.”
The playoffs have a way of revealing a team’s character, either exposing all those weaknesses that can’t always be seen from October to mid-April or showing the basketball world a stronger side. The Rockets, due in large part to the man’s-man outing from 34-year-old big man Nene, did the latter.
When he wasn’t wrestling with Steven Adams down low, doing all he could to keep the Thunder center from bullying the flustered Harden at every turn, he was hitting all 12 of his shots for a 28-point, 10-rebound outing that helped the Rockets star off the hook. With the Rockets hitting just 11 of 35 three-pointers in all, Harden - who saw the Thunder's Russell Westbrook finish with 35 points (10 of 28 shooting), 14 rebounds and 14 assists - missed all seven of his shots from beyond the arc.
“This game is a lot of physicality,” Nene said. “Physicality is ability and ability is there. We try and stick with it. We understand that last game; we missed a lot of defensive-centered scenarios and this game we came and played physical, we made shots, and we stopped defenders. We exploited their weakness. That is why we won.”
Make no mistake, they worked the numbers too. They always work the numbers.
After nearly 44 minutes of top-tier hoops entertainment, with the Thunder leading 58-54 at halftime and 77-73 through three quarters, it became a game of gimmicks down the stretch. D’Antoni went to the hack-a-Shaq strategy at the 4:11 mark, ordering fouls on Roberson because, well, he shot 42.3% from the line this season. He missed seven of eight attempts during the four-possession span, forcing Thunder coach Billy Donovan to limit late playing time for the fourth-year small forward who had been so effective against Harden all game long.
This formula, new wrinkle and all, is working wonders for these Rockets now.
NBA fines Rockets' Patrick Beverley $25K for fan incident
By USA Today Sports
The NBA has fined Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley $25K following an incident with a fan after Friday night's Game 3 in Oklahoma City, the league announced on Sunday.
"If the NBA won't or help protect players in situations with fans," Patrick Beverley said on Sunday, "... I'm okay with the hazing, I'm okay with the boos, I'm okay with the other fans rooting for their team, but I'm not okay with the blatant disrespect while I'm on the ground after a foul and a fan yelling out to me 'F-you, Patrick Beverley, f-you, Patrick Beverley, f-you Patrick Beverley,' waving a clapper in my face. I'm not comfortable with that."
The NBA began an investigation after the Thunder's 115-113 win on Friday night.
As seen on video that was published by ESPN, which telecast the Thunder win in which Beverley had just one point and missed all six of his shots in 25 minutes, Beverley had two heated exchanges with a male fan who was sitting behind the basket. During the game, Beverley had fallen at the man's feet after barreling through the lane and attempting a layup. The fan, according to the Norman Transcript, was Stuart Scaramucci, who is the son of Thunder minority owner Jay Scaramucci.
When he arose, Beverley clearly took exception to something the fan said or did and can be seen pleading with officials to handle the situation. After the game, Beverley and the same fan can be seen exchanging words before arena employees and a Rockets security guard usher him away. The Rockets lead the first-round series 2-1 with Game 4 on Sunday.
Beverley was asked about the incident on Saturday.
"The Rockets are taking care of the situation," Beverley said. "I'll talk more after the investigation is done."
ESPN and the Houston Chronicle previously reported the fine.
Game 3: Thunder 115, Rockets 113
Thunder, Westbrook hold off Rockets, Harden in crucial Game 3
By Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
Russell Westbrook made it interesting again.
And as the Oklahoma City Thunder star's catch phrase goes, why not?
He’s the NBA’s most divisive talent, the man who can inspire the masses one day and infuriate them the next. Only this time, just two days after his late failings had everything to do with a Game 2 loss to the Houston Rockets in their first-round playoff series, his Thunder survived in a 115-113 win at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
After Westbrook missed two of four free throws in the final 1:05 of play, including his last attempt with eight seconds left, the Rockets’ James Harden missed a three-pointer from the right wing with Andre Roberson contesting. Alas, the Thunder cut the Rockets’ series lead to 2-1 and will now enter Game 4 on Sunday with a chance to even it up.
"I had to do a better job at trusting my teammates for 48 minutes," said Westbrook, who had taken 18 fourth-quarter shots in Game 2 (missing 14) but took just seven in the Game 3 fourth quarter (hitting three). "Tonight, those guys made plays throughout the whole game. That's what I tried to do."
To Westbrook's credit, he has always refused to criticize his supporting cast - no matter how futile their efforts. So when he was asked to compare and contrast the before and after, to highlight the ways that he helped the efforts of the "others," as TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal has long referred to role players, Westbrook wasn't having it.
"Well for one, we’re all one team," he said. "I don’t have a cast. I don’t have ‘other’ guys. We’re all in this together, and my teammates have been doing a great job all season long. The last few games, we’ve been doing a great job as well, and we’ll continue to trust in each other and our abilities to be able to stay a team and stay as one."
Russell Westbrook fined $15K for 'I don't give a (expletive)' comments
By USA Today Sports
Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has been fined $15,000 for "using inappropriate language during a postgame media interview," the NBA announced today.
Westbrook made his comments following the Thunder's 115-111 loss to the Houston Rockets in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Westbrook, who finished the game with an NBA playoff record 51-point, 13-assist, 10-rebound triple-double, was visibly upset after the loss, especially when asked about his stat line in the postgame press conference.
"I don't give a (expletive) about the line. We lost."
Westbrook carried his team throughout the game, but shot just four-for-18 in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder are down 2-0 in the first-round series, with a chance to get a much-needed win in Oklahoma City on Friday night.
Game 2: Rockets 115 Thunder 111
Rockets overcome Westbrook's 51, take 2-0 series lead
By the Associated Press
James Harden scored 35 points as the Houston Rockets overcame 51 points from Russell Westbrook in the highest-scoring triple-double in playoff history, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-111 on Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round Western Conference playoff series.
Westbrook set a franchise playoff scoring record and added 13 assists and 10 rebounds. It was the sixth career playoff triple-double for Westbrook, who had an NBA-record 42 in the regular season.
But he shot just 4 for 18 in the fourth quarter as the Rockets clawed back from a double-digit deficit to surge ahead.
The game was tied before Houston scored 10 straight points with 3-pointers from Harden, Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon to make it 114-104 with 1:22 remaining. Westbrook had four straight points to start a 7-1 run after that, but the Thunder wouldn't get any closer.
This was a much different game than the series opener, when Houston routed the Thunder 118-87. On Wednesday night, Houston trailed by as many as 15 and didn't take a lead until the fourth quarter.
The Rockets benefited from a balanced scoring attack, with Lou Williams adding 21, Gordon scoring 22 off the bench and Game 1 star Beverley chipping in 15.
Game 1: Rockets 118, Thunder 87
Harden carries Rockets to win over Westbrook, Thunder
Rockets take Game 1 from the OKC Thunder in a blowout, 118-87. James Harden might be the the NBA MVP, but Sunday night? The spotlight belonged to pesky Patrick Beverley. The dude just brings it. 1 down, 15 to go. Daniel Gotera has the reaction from Toyota
By AJ Neuharth-Keusch , USA TODAY Sports
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.
Westbrook, who finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists but shot just six-for-23 from the field and had nine turnovers, was bothered by tough defense from the pesky Patrick Beverley throughout. He also didn't have a chance to stage any of those late-game heroics that we saw time and time again in the regular season, as his Thunder found themselves down by as much as 32 in the closing minutes.
"(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 7 p.m.
"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."
Fans cheer on Rockets in Game 1 of playoffs
The rockets won Game 1 of the playoff on Sunday and their fans were there to cheer them on.
By Josh Chapin, KHOU 11 News
It was Clutch City playoff style Sunday as the Rockets cruised to a victory over Oklahoma City.
Fans came out early to the pre-game festivities to take it all in.
"It is just really exciting to see the city pumped and getting behind our team. I’m really excited tonight," said Tara May, who's been a fan since the 1980s.
Fourteen-year-old Blake Watts brought the picture he painted of James Harden to his first playoff game, perhaps for good luck.
"He’s the best player in the NBA," Watts said.
It was a home crowd excited for the start of what they hope is a long trip through the playoffs.
"Hopefully Harden can put Westbrook in his place and we'll keep moving on or not thinking about them," said May.