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 Wednesday night in Game 7 of the first-round series.
In the end, Houston prevailed to set up a second-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers that begins Friday despite Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer, going 4 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 Canada’s Lu Dort, who attempted a 3-pointer that Harden blocked with 4.8 seconds left.
WATCH | Dort’s 30 not enough in Thunder’s loss to Rockets:
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, the Montreal native, 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 1 and 2 handily and Game 5 by 34, the biggest margin in franchise post-season history, but hadn’t come through in the close ones. Oklahoma City took Game 3 in overtime by outscoring Houston 15-3, the largest overtime point differential in NBA history, and pulled out Game 4 by three points and Game 6 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 3-pointers in the fourth and Harden made two of his three shots in the period, including a basket that snapped a 99-all tie.
The Thunder closed the first quarter with a 10-2 spurt to take a 30-29 lead. Then it was Dort with a 12-point second quarter, hitting three 3-pointers to continue a remarkable turnaround from Game 5, when his 3-for-16 night included going 0 for 9 behind the arc. He bounced back with 13 points in Game 6.
One of his 3s gave the Thunder a six-point lead, but Houston closed strong to lead 61-59 at the break.
Houston got the final five points of the third on a basket by Westbrook and a 3-pointer by Jeff Green, another former Oklahoma City player, to take an 85-80 lead to the final 12 minutes.
Heat top Bucks on free throws with no time left
Jimmy Butler loves soccer, and the final scene from Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals resembled a penalty shot in a shootout.
Only there was no goalie.
This was just a free throw, no time on the clock, nobody else from the Miami Heat or Milwaukee Bucks standing along the lane. Game tied, two chances to make one shot, the outcome completely in Butler’s hands.
Rattling home a free throw will have to suffice. Butler got the first one to bounce home, made a second one that was irrelevant, and the Heat grabbed control of their East semifinal matchup with a 116-114 win over the Bucks on Wednesday night — becoming the first No. 5 seed to take a 2-0 series lead over a No. 1 seed.
Butler was fouled by Giannis Antetokounmpo with no time remaining, the referees said, a call that was affirmed in a review after the initial whistle. The ball was out of Butler’s hands when Antetokounmpo clearly made contact.
“I’d say we’re disappointed with the judgment, the decision, the timing,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
It was a bizarre ending to, well, a bizarre ending.
Shades of the Kawhi four-bounce shot? 👀<br><br>Jimmy Butler gets the game-winning foul shot to fall as the Heat take a 2-0 series lead over the Bucks<a href=”https://t.co/2ZbBb2wei7″>pic.twitter.com/2ZbBb2wei7</a>
The Heat were up by six with 27 seconds left and frittered that away, Butler giving Milwaukee two points with a most ill-advised pass — “a terrible IQ play,” he acknowledged — back toward the Bucks’ basket that turned into a layup by Brook Lopez.
That got Milwaukee within two, and Butler made one free throw with 7.7 seconds left to get the lead back to three. Khris Middleton was fouled by Goran Dragic — a call Miami argued to no avail, because the Heat unsuccessfully used their challenge on a foul of Lopez shooting a 3 in the first quarter — with 4.3 seconds left, and the All-Star made all three free throws to tie it.
Butler wound up with the ball in the deep corner, and Antetokounmpo — the reigning Defensive Player of the Year — contested.
“I feel like, personally, it was the right play,” Antetokounmpo said.
Then came the whistle, and that was that. Milwaukee couldn’t challenge the call; the Bucks used their review to overturn what would have been Antetokounmpo’s fourth foul on a charging call into Butler early in the fourth quarter.
“In the judgment of the officials, the foul occurred, I guess, at some point when he landed,” Budenholzer said. “In the judgment of the officials, there was enough to warrant a foul.”
Miami’s lead was 90-86 entering the fourth — and Milwaukee had the lead back on the very first possession of the final quarter.
Middleton was fouled on a 3-point try, made the first two free throws and the rebound of the third was controlled by the Bucks. Kyle Korver made a 3-pointer off that rebound to cap a five-point possession for Milwaukee, which had the lead again for the first time since 14-13.
The Heat were undeterred. They scored 13 of the next 15 points to not only reclaim the lead but push it to 103-93 on a 3-pointer by Crowder with 7:50 left.
They wouldn’t trail again.