The 109th consecutive sell- out crowd inside the Chesapeake Energy Arena, in Oklahoma City were loud, vibrating with vigour as Oklahoma City Thunders played host to the Houston Rockets in Game 2 of their first round Western Conference playoff series.
Thunders blew a 15- point lead late against the Rockets then grabbed the advantage back, held on for dear life, and escaped with a thrilling 105-102 win to take a 2-0 lead in the first round Western Conference playoff series.
The Rockets started a small lineup, with three players 6- foot- 5 and under. That didn’t work against the team as Houston dominated the boards, outrebounded OKC 57-40. A good chunk of those boards, 18 of them, came off the offensive glass. Houston also outscored Oklahoma City 50-30 in the paint.
The Rockets played much better in Game 2 after been blown out by 29 points in the opener. James Harden led all scorers with 36 points 11 for Houston, 12 of them coming in the fourth quarter. He also grabbed 11 rebounds and was 17- for- 20 at the free throw line. However, it wasn’t enough to offset big nights from Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who each scored 29. Durant started the game 6- for- 10 but was just 4- for- 15 after that. He also handed out nine assists. Serge Ibaka had a double- double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. Thabo Sefolosha dropped in 11 (including three 3- pointers) and sixth man Kevin Martin added 10 and also had three 3- pointers.
Chandler Parsons bounced back from a poor Game 1 to score 17 points and seven rebounds for the Rockets. But it was the play of rookie Patrick Beverley that launched the Rockets. He had 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. He helped spark a 21-2 run late in the game that pulled the Rockets out of a 15- point deficit to gain a brief lead in the fourth quarter before Oklahoma City Thunder went on a 10-2 run to take the game back.
Thunder’s coach, Scott Brooks responding after the game said: “It was a hard fought game; both teams laid it on the line out there. We knew they’d play much better. They were more aggressive getting to the paint. We’ve been on both sides of those big runs and I told the guys to just stay composed and trust each other.”
Star man Kevin Durant, influenced the turning point of the game with three minutes to play when he blocked a Parsons layup and then 30 seconds later scored his first basket of the fourth quarter, a 3- pointer, that gave Oklahoma City a lead they would not give up.
Houston Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale wanted his guys to be more aggressive, take some charges, share the ball better and get some rebounds, which all happened in the first half. McHale’s move to insert Beverley into the starting lineup paid dividends frustrating Westbrook and getting him in foul troubles on several drives. In the fourth quarter, McHale went to a soft 2-3 zone and the Thunder had trouble with it. Their three fourth quarter turnovers all came against the zone and Durrant noted the coach’s brilliance.
“They threw that zone at us and I think it caught us off guard a little bit. We were passive against it at first than got more aggressive. We gotta go back and make adjustments for Game 3,” Durant said.
Jeremy Lin did not return to the game after halftime. He’s been diagnosed with a bruised chest and his availability for Game 3 is in doubt. Game 3 comes up on Saturday at Houston.