Team lift as Westbrook inspires win

Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives around James Harden of the Houston Rockets while shepherding his team to a 115-113 win in Game Three of the Western Conference play-offs. His on-court decision making was crucial in the win.
Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives around James Harden of the Houston Rockets while shepherding his team to a 115-113 win in Game Three of the Western Conference play-offs. His on-court decision making was crucial in the win.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Thunder narrow Rockets' series lead to 2-1 as team-mates respond to their star's marshalling tactics

OKLAHOMA CITY • Russell Westbrook did not have to do everything himself on Friday.

The Oklahoma City star turned in another triple-double performance in a 115-113 NBA Game Three win over the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but it was not just the Westbrook show over the final 12 minutes as the Thunder hung on for the win to pull within 2-1 in the first round play-off series.

"I had to do a better job of trusting my team-mates for 48 minutes," Westbrook said. "Today those guys made plays throughout the whole game and that's what I tried to do."

In Wednesday's Game Two, Westbrook was four of 18 from the floor in the fourth quarter as the Thunder let yet another lead slip away.

On Friday, Steven Adams came up with the big play, tipping in Westbrook's missed three-pointer to put the Thunder up with 35 seconds remaining.

None of Westbrook's 11 assists - to go along with 32 points and 13 rebounds - came in the fourth quarter, but several of his passes set up scores for team-mates.

"I thought he was unbelievable," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "He got guys shots; he took advantage when they switched; he did a lot of different things. He played an exceptional game."

The triple-double was Westbrook's second consecutive, making him the first player to record back-to-back triple-doubles in the same play-off series since Jason Kidd in the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals.

Westbrook left the door open, though, for some Houston heroics when he twice missed free throws in the closing seconds as the Rockets put the Thunder on the line hoping for the comeback.

His second miss, with 8.4 seconds left, set up a last-ditch effort by James Harden.

Harden saw the lane getting packed with Oklahoma City defenders and decided to pull up for the three-pointer.

The shot hit the front of the rim, then bounced off the backboard and away as Westbrook flew in and batted at the ball, ending any chance of a Rockets put-back.

TENSE FINAL MOMENTS

I thought he was unbelievable. He got guys shots; he took advantage when they switched... he played an exceptional game.

BILLY DONOVAN, Oklahoma coach, on Westbrook's contribution.

It was Harden's second missed three-pointer - both short - in the final 15 seconds. He finished with 44 points on 11-of-21 shooting.

While the final seconds stand out, Harden said it was the Rockets' cold start - and the hot start of the Thunder - that was concerning.

Oklahoma City outscored Houston 34-25 in the first quarter, leading by nine after 12 minutes for the second consecutive game.

"We've got to come out with some dog in us," Harden said. "Second half, we did a really good job on both ends of the floor.

"I think both (Games) Two and Three we spot them 10 points and it's tough."

The Thunder led for much of the game, thanks in part to Donovan's altered rotation.

He went with an offensive-heavy look for large stretches, expanding the minutes given to Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott.

Taj Gibson also played extended minutes and scored 20 points in 29:25 after combining for just 13 in the first two games of the series.

"You think going into Game One, 'we really gotta guard,' and in Game One we did a good job at the three-point line and we scored 88 points," Donovan said.

"There's a balance trying to go all offence or all defence. But they create very, very difficult match-ups. Trying to find that balance is what you're looking for."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'Team lift as Westbrook inspires win'. Print Edition | Subscribe