OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – After getting blown out three nights earlier, the Houston Rockets were down 15 points in the fourth quarter and facing the long odds of needing to make a comeback against the Western Conference’s top team without starting point guard Jeremy Lin.
The Rockets proved they were up to the task. They just couldn’t close the deal.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant each scored 29 points, and the Oklahoma City Thunder recovered after squandering their big lead to beat Houston 105-102 on Wednesday night and take a 2-0 series lead.
”We fought hard and we played really well, and a lot of things didn’t go our way, but I think it gives us confidence going forward that we can definitely beat these guys,” said Chandler Parsons, who scored 17 points.
”We’re definitely not scared of them.”
Lin sat out the second half because of a muscle contusion in his chest.
”It’s easily the most frustrating thing that has happened this entire season,” said Lin, who played in all 82 games this season. “I’ve been healthy, and then the second half of a playoff game on the road where we’re playing well in Game 2.”
Lin said X-rays were negative and he could be able to play in Game 3 if spasms stop.
”Our team is a young team and we’re not a perfect team by any stretch of the imagination, but they’ll fight,” coach Kevin McHale said. “They’re a bunch of scrappers. They’ll go out and fight you for it. So, I knew our team would play well today. That’s who they are.”
The Thunder’s big lead melted away with nine straight empty possessions as the Rockets mixed in a zone defense. James Harden spearheaded a 21-2 Houston comeback by getting into the lane to create his own opportunities, and he also kicked the ball out to set up two 3-pointers by Carlos Delfino. His second 3, from the right wing, provided a 95-91 lead with 3:27 to go.
But the Rockets couldn’t keep it up.
Oklahoma City came back to tie it before Harden knifed to the basket for a layup to give Houston its last lead at 97-95 with 2:42 to play.
Durant answered 14 seconds later with a deep 3 from the left wing, and the Thunder wouldn’t give up the lead again. Oklahoma City came up with back-to-back stops before Thabo Sefolosha’s 3 provided a little breathing room at 101-97.
Parsons, who went tumbling to the court as Sefolosha shot, said Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins prevented him from closing out on the shooter.
”It was obvious what Perkins did to me. He grabbed me with two hands and I couldn’t go out there and contest Sefolosha,” he said. “It’s part of the game.”
Serge Ibaka added a long jumper to make it 103-98 after the Rockets forced Durant to give up the ball. Durant and Kevin Martin, both in the top 5 in the league in free-throw percentage, both went 1 for 2 at the foul line in the final 12 seconds to give the Rockets one last chance.
Houston didn’t have any timeouts left after Durant’s miss with 1 second left, and Delfino couldn’t connect on a desperation shot at the final buzzer.
”It’s frustrating and it hurts really bad right now,” Parsons said. “But you’ve got to take some positives out of it. It’s a long series.”
Game 3 is Saturday night in Houston.
Harden ended up with 36 points and 11 rebounds, and rookie Patrick Beverley had 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists for Houston. The Rockets made up for a 40 percent shooting mark with a 57-40 advantage on the boards and a 50-30 scoring edge in the paint, engineering a massive turnaround after getting blown out 120-91 in Game 1.
Beverley moved into the starting lineup as Houston went with a three-guard unit, and it didn’t take long for the rookie to get under Westbrook’s thin skin. Beverley lunged for a steal as Westbrook stopped to call a timeout after Houston took a 42-41 lead midway through the second quarter, with his hip slamming into Westbrook’s right knee.
Westbrook smashed his right hand onto the scorer’s table in anger and hobbled back to the huddle, but was able to stay in the game. He stripped Beverley for a runout layup two possessions later, but the Thunder still couldn’t shake free.
Later in the half, Beverley knocked Westbrook down on a foul and then reached out to help him up. Westbrook slapped his hand away.
”It’s part of basketball, playoff basketball. Everyone wants to go out there and win,” Beverley said. “Anyone who knows me, knows my character, that I’m not going to back down from anyone, Russell Westbrook or anybody else.”
Another rookie, Greg Smith, drew a technical foul when he jawed at Ibaka after dunking on the NBA’s top shot-blocker and Houston was still within 57-55 at halftime.
Just after Harden’s driving throwdown put Houston ahead 63-61, Oklahoma City raged back with a string of 13 straight points with Ibaka keying the run. He swatted Omer Asik’s dunk attempt, hit two free throws and grabbed an offensive rebound that set up Westbrook’s three-point play. The Thunder started the fourth quarter with an 11-2 to run to push their lead to 89-74 after Martin’s 3-pointer with 9:22 to go.
McHale called time out, and the Rockets immediately responded with Beverley’s 3-pointer off a set play – and that was only the beginning of the comeback.
”We were down 15, we could have just given up the game and said, ‘Let’s go to Game 3,’ but we fought back and took the lead,” Harden said. “So, we definitely have some confidence going into Game 3 and going back home.”
Notes: Beverley had not started any games during his rookie season, moving into the rotation midway through the season and playing 41 games. … After finishing second to Tyson Chandler last year’s voting for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Ibaka was third this year behind Marc Gasol and LeBron James. Ibaka has led the NBA in total blocks the past three seasons. “He led the league three years in blocks. I guess that don’t mean nothing nowadays,” Perkins said. “At the end of the day, I think he deserves it. He should have won the thing. But it’s over with, so we’re just going to move on.”
By JEFF LATZKE
AP Sports Writer