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Rockets hold off Thunder to stay alive

The SportsXchange

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma City Thunder wanted to extinguish all hope.

Holding a 3-1 series lead, they wanted to send the Houston Rockets packing as quickly as possible.

Houston had different plans. The eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs defeated Oklahoma City 107-100 Wednesday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Thunder still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, but all the momentum now resides with the eighth-seeded Rockets, who have won two in a row. Game 6 is Friday in Houston.

"I want to play tomorrow," Houston's Francisco Garcia said. "We are ready to play. Ready to play them Friday. Everybody is hyped right now. We want to go back home and get this thing going."

Trailing by 16 in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City started to foul Houston center Omer Asik intentionally to send him to the free-throw line. The strategy worked for a period as the Thunder got to within six.

However, once Oklahoma City stopped making baskets, Asik began to knock down his free throws, and he gave Houston a 104-94 lead with 2:15 left in the game.

After the Rockets got a defensive stop, Chandler Parsons drained a 3-pointer to put the Thunder away.

"We had the lead, and they just fouled me," said Asik, who finished 13-for-18 from the line. "I just tried to knock down the free throws. I missed some, but I made some. I'm happy we won the game. I just didn't think too much. Because we had the lead, I was relaxed. I just shot the ball."

Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said the Thunder may stayed with the fouling strategy too long, but since his defense was unable to get stops, it was the only option left.

"Give them credit, they came out and played lights out," Brooks said. "They shot the ball so well. Some were contested. Some were not contested. We didn't match up in transition. But we have to do a better job. We gave up two 30-point-plus quarters."

Led by James Harden (31 points), six Rockets scored in double figures. Asik had 21 points and 11 rebounds. Francisco Garcia added 18 points, while Patrick Beverley scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Harden also had eight rebounds.

Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant had a game-high 36 points to go along with seven assists, seven rebounds and only three turnovers. However, he was held scoreless in the fourth quarter. Reggie Jackson scored 20 points on 7-for 15 shooting, and Serge Ibaka pitched in with 14 points and nine rebounds. Kevin Martin shot 1-for-10 and was held to three points.

Houston started the night with the same game plan it has employed the entire series. The Rockets wanted to take the ball out of Durant's hands and make someone else beat them. That left wide-open shots for the likes of Jackson, Martin and Ibaka.

Unfortunately for the Thunder, they were not hitting their outside shots early. They began the game 1-for-12 from 3-point range. Martin was particularly ineffective, missing his first six shots from the field.

"Playoffs are another animal," Brooks said. "When you are on a good team, a playoff team, it's a different game. We have to do a better job of getting (Durant) more opportunities, but he also has to work much better to get those opportunities."

Houston pushed its lead to 38-30 behind the play of Garcia. Not only was he providing unexpected points, but his tenacious defense began to bother Durant.

With the perimeter shots not falling, Oklahoma City used defense to get back into the contest. Along with Ibaka in the paint, the effort was keyed by DeAndre Liggins, who came off the bench and attached himself to Parsons and at times Beverley.

Despite that, the Rockets held a 50-43 halftime advantage.

As it has in the past three games, Houston came out of halftime rolling. Harden attacked the front of the rim at will, and Oklahoma City seemed powerless to stop him, despite having the league leader in blocked shots, Ibaka.

Houston took a 87-75 advantage in to the fourth quarter and held on the rest of the game.

Even though the Thunder reached 100 points, they were not happy with their offensive flow. Playing without injured guard Russell Westbrook, they are waiting for someone else to step up and become a consistent second scorer.

"(Houston) doesn't really care about anybody else on the team," Durant said. "When I have the ball, it's like four guys guarding me sometimes. I have to make the pass. Tonight, we didn't make some shots, but I trust we are going to make those wide open ones. I have faith we are going to make those shots."

NOTES: In his first trip back to Oklahoma City since accidentally ending Russell Westbrook's postseason in Game 2, Beverley was expecting a hostile welcome. The Thunder fans didn't let him down. When he was introduced during player introductions, he was showered with boos. That continued every time he touched the ball. Early in the first quarter, Beverley crossed halfcourt to call timeout, and Reggie Jackson went hard for a steal. Beverley threw an arm out and was hit with a technical foul. ... Despite having surgery on his knee Saturday, Westbrook was at the game. However, he was unable to sit with the team on the bench. ... The Westboro Baptist Church showed up at the Chesapeake Energy Arena before the start of Game 5. The group was protesting Kevin Durant's support of Washington's Jason Collins announcement earlier in the week that he is gay. ... With the recent talk about dirty play in the playoffs, Houston coach Kevin McHale laughed at the comparison to when he played for the Boston Celtics in the 1980s and 1990s. "It's night and day," McHale said. "Completely different. I'm not sure there was ever an 'over the line' in the playoffs. How can there be? You don't like them, they don't like you. Who is making these lines? I liked it when there were no lines. Just go play."

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