Rockets weather a thunder's storm

Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook (left) and Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverley exchanging words during Game Five. Westbrook had 47 points but the Rockets won 105-99 to clinch the series 4-1.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook (left) and Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverley exchanging words during Game Five. Westbrook had 47 points but the Rockets won 105-99 to clinch the series 4-1.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Houston survive Westbrook's 47-point effort to win Game Five and progress to West semis

HOUSTON • Guard Patrick Beverley was the last member of the Houston Rockets to make his way to the post-game podium to outline the defensive strategy employed against Russell Westbrook, a plan of attack that involved throwing any number of bodies at the Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star.

With Westbrook recharging on the bench one final time during the National Basketball Association (NBA) series, Rockets reserve guard Lou Williams scored 10 points during an opening burst in the fourth quarter, sparking another late Rockets rally.

They emerged with a 105-99 win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday at Toyota Centre, sealing the Western Conference first-round playoff series in five games.

Williams tallied five free throws, a basket awarded thanks to a goaltending call on Thunder forward Jerami Grant, and a deep three-pointer that pushed the lead to 86-81.

By the time Westbrook returned with 9min 15sec left in the game, the Rockets were on a 16-4 run that not only put them ahead to stay, but also served as a microcosm for what they aimed to accomplish whenever the Thunder guard sat.

ROCKET SCIENCE

When he goes out, every time we have to make them pay for that.

LOU WILLIAMS , Rockets reserve guard, on Houston's strategy in their series against the Thunder. The Rockets took advantage whenever Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook rested. The NBA's leading scorer was on court for 41min 52sec in Game Five.

"That's how we played the whole series," Williams said. "You've got to tip your hat to Russell for the type of season that he had, the type of series that he had. We understand what he brings to the table... When he goes out, every time we have to make them pay for that."

Westbrook finished with 47 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. But he shot two for 11 in the final period, missing all five three-point attempts. After almost singlehandedly erasing the Rockets' 11-point lead in the third quarter, he ran out of gas again in the fourth quarter.

He did the same en route to his 51-point triple-double in Game Two, shooting four of 18 in the fourth as Houston rallied.

He did not blink when asked if he was fond of the shots he took late.

"I liked them," he said.

The Rockets liked them, too, and they were content to let Westbrook fire away after attempting to wear him down with multiple defenders and varying coverages.

Their ability to wait out Westbrook played a role in advancing to the Western Conference semi-finals, where they will face either the San Antonio Spurs or the Memphis Grizzlies.

"You just hope he does have a little human in him," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said of the NBA's leading scorer.

"(Fatigue) has got to eventually come out a little bit."

Rockets guard James Harden overcame another poor shooting performance from the floor (eight of 25) and finished with a team-high 34 points. He was 16 of 17 from the free-throw line.

Williams totalled 22 points, while Beverley added 15 points and eight rebounds. Eric Gordon and Nene combined for 22 points off the bench as the Rockets reserves posted a 44-22 advantage.

In outscoring the Thunder 33-22 in the fourth quarter, the Rockets closed the series with a 161-111 advantage in fourth-quarter scoring.

"Their defence is very, very underrated," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "Their level of intensity defensively as the game goes on keeps going up and up.

"I think some of the fourth quarters for us... a contributing factor could be maybe some fatigue, and them defensively doing a really good job." REUTERS

BOSTON V CHICAGO

Singtel TV Ch110, 8.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2017, with the headline 'Rockets weather a thunder's storm'. Print Edition | Subscribe