The Thunder had no answer. They tried shooting threes. They tried running. They tried hard fouls. They tried flopping. Ultimately, down much of the game to the visiting Rockets, the Thunder tried fouling Rockets center Omer Asik on every possession. Asik, who shot only 52 percent from the charity stripe during the season made them pay. He finished hitting 13-18 from the line and OKC was done.
On the other side of the floor, the Rockets were blistering the Thunder all night from deep. James Harden, who had 31 points in a bounce back game, hit his first seven three pointers and Francisco Garcia went 5-12 from deep (18 points) as they built as much as a 17-point lead before withstanding the Thunder's last gasp run in the fourth quarter and cruising to a 107-100 victory. The win sends the series back to Houston for game six on Friday. Only 10 other times in NBA history has a team down 0-3 in a seven-game series come back to force game six.
What was so impressive about the win was that the Rockets had control of the game from start to finish. For the first time in the series, the Thunder looked completely out of sorts and never seemed to recover. Their three point shooting was in complete contrast to the Rockets. As a team, the Thunder went 8-23 from distance for 24 percent. The Rockets, who have consistently improved from beyond the arc throughout the series, went 14-35 for 40 percent.
Former Rocket Kevin Martin was especially bad going 0-5 from three and 1-10 overall. Even after they began to make shots, the Rockets countered. They got efficient games from their backcourt, particularly Patrick Beverley, who was booed every time he touched the ball after his aggressive play against Russel Westbrook cost OKC their star point guard for the playoffs with a knee injury. Beverley finished with 14 points on 5-11 shooting and 8 rebounds. Aaron Brooks came off the bench for 10 points in 19 minutes as well, but it was the starters who shouldered the load, especially after a foot injury sidelined Carlos Delfino in the second half, an injury that has bothered him all series.
Not enough can be said about the play of Harden. The former Thunder sixth man went from near goat in game four to hero in game five. He scored his 31 points on 10-16 shooting in 41 minutes. The player of the game, however, was Asik. He notched yet another double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds and kept the Thunder from coming back when they starting hacking him on every play.
Now, the series returns to Toyota Center. No team has ever come back from an 0-3 hole to win a series and the Rockets will still be decided underdogs to even make a game seven, but there was no question the Rockets were the better team on Wednesday night and they have continued to improve throughout the series. If not for a miracle shot by Kevin Durant in game 3, the Rockets might be coming home to try and close out the series.
All anyone has talked about since the Rockets clinched a playoff spot is how great the experience will be for these young, inexperienced players. No one thought that experience might include a second round, but, at this point, it would be a mistake to count them out.