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Thunder escape, go up 2-0 on Rockets

The SportsXchange

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook is an emotional player. The Oklahoma City Thunder guard believes he plays his best when he is being attacked.

The Rockets tested that belief Wednesday in Game 2 of the first-round Western Conference playoff series at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Houston pushed Westbrook and his teammates to the brink and came close to pulling off the upset, but the Thunder pushed back to earn a 105-102 victory.

"It's fun," Westbrook said. "During this time of the year, the team has one goal and can't let nobody get in the way. That's how I feel. That's how I want my team to respond as well."

The Thunder lead the best-of-seven series 2-0. Game 3 is Saturday in Houston.

After winning the opener in a blowout, the Thunder expected a better effort from the Rockets, and they got it.

Oklahoma City built a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead with eight minutes left, but the Rockets went on a 21-2 run to take a 95-91 lead.

The Thunder looked worn out and out of sync. Kevin Durant wasn't done, though. He drained a 3-pointer to give Oklahoma City a 98-97 advantage.

Houston's Chandler Parsons missed a 3-pointer, and the Thunder got the rebound. Durant got the ball at the top of the key and drove into the middle of the lane, where the Rockets converged on him. Instead of forcing up a shot, he passed out to a wide-open Thabo Sefolosha, who knocked down the 3-pointer with 1:01 to play.

Houston's James Harden hit one of two at the foul line to close gap to three points, but the Thunder's Serge Ibaka hit a long jumper to push the lead back to five. Oklahoma City fouled Harden again, and he made both free throws with 14 seconds left to cut the Rockets' deficit to 103-100.

Oklahoma City's Kevin Martin hit one of two free throws with 11 seconds left. Houston used up the rest of the time to get a layup, but it wasn't enough as the Thunder held on for the win.

"We had a few opportunities to lead in that game in the last three or four minutes, to capitalize on a couple of buckets," Harden said. "We didn't."

Durant scored 29 points on 10-for-26 shooting to go along with nine assists. Westbrook also finished with 29 points despite playing on a gimpy knee. Ibaka scored 12 points to go with six blocked shots and 11 rebounds. Martin came off the bench to add 10 points, going 3-for-7 from behind the 3-point arc.

However, the Rockets outrebounded the Thunder 57-40, even though Houston played with a smaller lineup much of the night.

"It doesn't add up other than it did add up," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "They got the rebounds. That is something we have talked about all year. We can't be the bigger team and be the team that gives up (18) rebounds offensively."

Harden posted 36 points, though he shot just 9-for-24. He went 17-for-20 from the foul line, and he collected 11 rebounds and six assists. Parsons scored 17 points, while rookie Patrick Beverley added 16 points and 12 rebounds in his first start. He also had six assists and two steals.

The game got heated midway through the second quarter when Westbrook banged knees with Beverley and had to be helped off the court. Westbrook and Francisco Garcia exchanged words when the Thunder guard came back into the game, and Westbrook had to be led away from the Rockets bench.

Westbrook continued to go after Beverley on both ends of the court, but the rookie didn't back down. Westbrook picked up his third foul when he was called for throwing an elbow at Beverley.

However, the Rockets had no answer for Durant. His 21 points in the first half tied for the most first-half points he's scored in a playoff game.

Despite the Thunder shooting 50 percent from the field, Houston stayed close by dominating on the boards in the first half with a 26-18 advantage. Beverley had six boards, while Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka combined for six total.

Oklahoma City only led 57-55 at halftime.

Jeremy Lin had a strong first half for the Rockets with seven points, four rebounds and three assists, but a right chest contusion kept him from playing in second half.

Houston took a 63-61 advantage before the Thunder went on a 14-0 run with Westbrook leading the charge.

Once again, the Rockets closed the gap and trailed 78-72 heading into the fourth quarter.

"It's frustrating, but at the same time we know that we can do something," Beverley said. "We know we can build from that when we play in Houston the next game."

NOTES: Ibaka finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, which was announced Wednesday. Memphis center Marc Gasol received 212 points and 30 first-place votes to edge Miami's LeBron James, who had 149 points and 18 first-place votes. Ibaka ended the regular season with 242 total blocked shots to lead the league. He had 36 more than second-place Larry Sanders. Gasol was 10th with 136. Ibaka finished second to Tyson Chandler for the award last season. ... Houston coach Kevin McHale put Beverley in the lineup to try to slow Westbrook and keep him out of the lane. ... The first-round format of the NBA playoffs is one players are having to get used to. The two days off between each game is not normal, but veteran Thunder guard Derek Fisher said it's not going to change anytime soon. "Whether I like it or not, I think it's been part of the NBA playoffs for the last several years," Fisher said. "We are in the first round because there are 16 teams playing. There are only so many games you can put on TV each night. You get the two days in between. It catches up and it balances out. You try to make the most of it. There is not as much carryover from one game."
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