Thunder beat Rockets 103-94 to advance
HOUSTON (AP) - The end of their season brought disappointment for the Houston Rockets. And hope.
After being ousted from the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night, the young Rockets were encouraged by what they accomplished this season.
"We've got a lot of young guys that work hard and want to win,'' James Harden said. "So the sky's the limit for us.''
Kevin Durant scored 27 points and Kevin Martin added 25 to lead the Thunder to a 103-94 victory over the Rockets, sending them to the second round of the playoffs for the third straight season.
The Rockets were looking to become just the fourth team in NBA history to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0.
But the Thunder opened the fourth quarter with a big run to take the lead and cruised to the victory.
"I think we've got something really special here,'' Houston's Chandler Parsons said. "We've got a whole bunch of young, humble guys that work hard. We've got nothing to hang our heads about.''
Martin finally gave the Thunder someone to take scoring pressure off Durant for the first time since All-Star Russell Westbrook had season-ending knee surgery. He had 21 points by halftime and Westbrook's replacement, Reggie Jackson helped out by scoring 17.
James Harden, who the Rockets said had strep throat on Thursday, led Houston with 26 points. He brushed off the notion that his illness slowed him down.
"All that goes out the window,'' he said. "We were just trying to go out there and do what it takes to win the game.''
Houston coach Kevin McHale was impressed with the growth of his team through the season.
"It's been a long year for me personally,'' said McHale, who took a leave early this season after the death of his 23-year-old daughter Sasha. "They fought hard for me every night. We didn't always play the smartest or the cleanest, but ... there was a only a handful of games where I felt like we didn't battle. That's impressive.''
Oklahoma City used a 14-4 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to take a 92-81 lead. Derek Fisher and Durant both hit 3-pointers in that stretch. Houston missed six shots, including two layups, and had two turnovers as the Thunder built the lead.
Harden made a 3-pointer after that, but Fisher stole the ball from him on the next possession and Durant took it down and finished with an exclamation point dunk, and Houston didn't threaten after that.
"We were just stagnant and from there on out we couldn't get any movement and really couldn't get any shots off,'' Harden said.
The Rockets' plan of double- and triple-teaming Durant and daring someone else to beat them worked in the previous two games as they cut the deficit to 3-2. On Friday, Martin knocked down shot after shot and had outscored Durant by 12 points by halftime.
Durant talked about the tough series Houston gave them.
"They remind me of us a few years back, and they're going to be a force to reckon with in the future,'' he said.
Houston got 25 points from Chandler Parsons, while Omer Asik had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Houston opened the third quarter with a barrage of 3-pointers. Francisco Garcia sunk one to start the period and Parsons hit three more to help the Rockets build a 68-62 lead with about 7 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.
The Rockets pushed the lead to 10 points a couple of minutes later before Jackson scored five quick points to get Oklahoma City within 72-67.
That was the beginning of a 10-2 spurt for the Thunder that helped them tie it at 74-all on a putback by Durant with about three minutes remaining in the quarter. Oklahoma City led 78-77 entering the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma City limited Houston to 23 points in the third on Friday after allowing the Rockets to score 38 and 37 points, respectively, in the third quarters of the last two games.
Martin, who joined the Thunder in the trade for Harden, rebounded from a tough Game 5. He missed his first nine shots on Wednesday and finished with three points. Things were much difference on Friday, when he had 21 points by halftime.
Houston was playing without key reserve Carlos Delfino, who has a bone fracture in his right foot that will require surgery.
Jeremy Lin didn't start, but played for the first time since Game 3 when he entered the game with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter. He had missed the last two games with a bruised chest muscle.
He had just three points.
Houston led by five points late in the first quarter before Oklahoma City used a 12-2 run to take a 36-31 lead about nine minutes before halftime. Fisher and Martin made consecutive 3s to cap that run.
Martin made a pair of free throws to finish his big first half before Harden swished a 3-pointer to cut Oklahoma City's lead to 58-54 at halftime.
Things got testy early, with Garcia and Kendrick Perkins pushing each other after a foul by Garcia and each getting technical fouls with about nine minutes left in the first quarter.
Garcia simmered down pretty quickly, but Perkins had to be pulled away by teammates.
After things settled down, Perkins inexplicably dropped to the court and did several pushups.
Another scuffle just before halftime resulted in technicals on both Asik and Durant.
NOTES: It was a sold-out crowd of 18,357. ... Parsons scored more than 25 points for his second straight game. ... Martin came one point shy of his career-high points in the playoffs of 26.
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