Just when it looked like the Oklahoma City Thunder were well on their way to an easy game 2 victory, leading by 15 points in the fourth quarter, the Houston Rockets went on a 21-2 run to take a 97-93 lead with under three minutes left in the game. But Kevin Durant stepped up when it mattered the most, first hitting a three to take the lead 98-97, and then, on the next possession finding Thabo Sefolosha for an open three from the right wing to extend the Thunder lead to 101-97 with a minute to play.
After James Harden split a pair of free throws, a Serge Ibaka jump shot extended the Thunder lead to five, with under a minute left, but the Rockets were without a timeout in the final seconds when Durant missed a free throw with the score 105-102 as the clock expired.
Kevin McHale made a surprising adjustment, just moments before the game, inserting Patrick Beverley into the starting lineup, in place of Greg Smith. Going with a small lineup, the Rockets hung close all game and Beverley shined, scoring 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists. He was also a pest on the defensive end, getting under the skin of Russell Westbrook. Beverley lunged for a steal as Westbrook stopped to call a timeout after Houston took a 42-41 lead midway through the second quarter, with his hip slamming into Westbrook’s right knee.
Westbrook smashed his right hand onto the scorer’s table in anger and hobbled back to the huddle, but was able to stay in the game. He stripped Beverley for a run-out layup two possessions later, but the Thunder still couldn’t shake free.
Later in the half, Beverley knocked Westbrook down on a foul and then reached out to help him up. Westbrook slapped his hand away.
“It’s part of basketball, playoff basketball. Everyone wants to go out there and win,” Beverley said. “Anyone who knows me, knows my character, that I’m not going to back down from anyone, Russell Westbrook or anybody else.”
Smith was also called for a technical foul when he stared down at Ibaka after dunking on the NBA’s top shot-blocker in the second quarter.
The Rockets were able to push the Thunder to the brink of a loss without Jeremy Lin, who left the game at the start of the second half with a chest contusion, and did not return to the game.
Harden led the way for the Rockets, scoring 36 points and dishing out 9 assists. Chandler Parsons added 17 points. The Thunder went cold in the second half, as McHale changed things up defensively, going to an extended 2-3 zone.
Durant and Westbrook each scored 29 points, while Ibaka added 12 points and 11 assists.
But the Rockets now head home for game 3 Saturday night with huge momentum. A young team without high expectations who now can see and feel like they can win can be very dangerous. Add the home court element to it, and it should be a hostile environment for the Thunder Saturday night.
“We were down 15, we could have just given up the game and said, `Let’s go to Game 3,’ but we fought back and took the lead,” Harden said. “So, we definitely have some confidence going into Game 3 and going back home.”