OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook slammed his hand on the scorer’s table in anger. He had been slowing down to call a timeout when rookie Patrick Beverley came careening in to try for a steal and crashed into Westbrook’s knee.
Oklahoma City’s guard shook off the pain and the Thunder withstood a challenge from an energized Houston Rockets team looking to bounce back from a Game 1 blowout.
Westbrook and Kevin Durant scored 29 points apiece, and Oklahoma City recovered after squandering a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead to beat Houston 105-102 on Wednesday night and take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference first-round series.
"It’s the playoffs," Westbrook said. "You can’t help it. You can’t help but get excited."
Oklahoma City’s big lead melted away with nine straight scoreless possessions as the Rockets mixed in a zone defence. James Harden spearheaded a 21-2 Houston comeback by getting into the lane to create his own opportunities, and he also kicked the ball out to set up two 3-pointers by Carlos Delfino. His second 3, from the right wing, provided a 95-91 lead with 3:27 to go.
But the Rockets couldn’t keep it up.
Oklahoma City came back to tie it before Harden knifed to the basket for a layup to give Houston its last lead at 97-95 with 2:42 to play.
Durant answered 14 seconds later with a deep 3 from the left wing, and the Thunder wouldn’t give up the lead again. Oklahoma City came up with back-to-back stops before Thabo Sefolosha’s 3 provided a little breathing room at 101-97.
Chandler Parsons, who went tumbling to the court as Sefolosha shot, said Oklahoma City centre Kendrick Perkins prevented him from closing out on the shooter.
"It was obvious what Perkins did to me. He grabbed me with two hands and I couldn’t go out there and contest Sefolosha," Parsons said. "It’s part of the game."
Serge Ibaka added a long jumper to make it 103-98 after the Rockets forced Durant to give up the ball. Durant and Kevin Martin, both in the top five in the league in free-throw percentage, both went 1 for 2 at the foul line in the final 12 seconds to give the Rockets one last chance.
Houston didn’t have any timeouts left after Durant’s miss with 1 second left, and Delfino couldn’t connect on a desperation shot at the buzzer.
"It’s frustrating and it hurts really bad right now," said Parsons, who scored 17. "But you’ve got to take some positives out of it. It’s a long series."
Game 3 is Saturday night in Houston.
Harden finished with 36 points and 11 rebounds, and Beverley had 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists for Houston. The Rockets made up for a 40 per cent shooting mark with a 57-40 advantage on the boards and a 50-30 scoring edge in the paint, engineering a massive turnaround after getting blown out 120-91 in Game 1.
And they did it without starting point guard Jeremy Lin, who didn’t play in the second half because of a muscle contusion in his chest. Lin said X-rays were negative and he could play in Game 3 if spasms stop.
"Our team is a young team and we’re not a perfect team by any stretch of the imagination, but they’ll fight," coach Kevin McHale said. "They’re a bunch of scrappers. They’ll go out and fight you for it. So, I knew our team would play well today. That’s who they are."
Beverley moved into the starting lineup as Houston went with a three-guard unit, and it didn’t take long for the rookie to get under Westbrook’s skin with his lunge for the steal.
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."
Westbrook said he relishes those moments when he gets challenged by an opponent.
"It’s fun. During this time of the year, as a team we’ve got one goal and we can’t let nobody get in the way," Westbrook said. "That’s how I feel and that’s how I want my team to respond as well."
Another rookie, Greg Smith, drew a technical foul when he jawed at Ibaka after dunking on the NBA’s top shot-blocker and Houston was within 57-55 at halftime.
Just after Harden’s driving throwdown put Houston ahead 63-61, Oklahoma City roared back with Ibaka keying a 13-0 run. He swatted Omer Asik’s dunk attempt, hit two free throws and grabbed an offensive rebound that set up Westbrook’s three-point play. The Thunder started the fourth quarter with an 11-2 to run to push their lead to 89-74 after Martin’s 3-pointer with 9:22 to go.
McHale called time out, and the Rockets immediately responded with Beverley’s 3-pointer off a set play beginning the comeback.
"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."
NOTES: Beverley had not started any games during his rookie season, moving into the rotation midway through the season and playing 41 games. … After finishing second to Tyson Chandler in last year’s voting for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Ibaka was third this year behind Marc Gasol and LeBron James. Ibaka has led the NBA in total blocks the past three seasons. "He led the league three years in blocks. I guess that don’t mean nothing nowadays," frontcourt partner Perkins said. "At the end of the day, I think he deserves it. He should have won the thing. But it’s over with, so we’re just going to move on."