CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook figured out that he didn’t have to do it all.
Once that happened, the Thunder figured out how to beat the Houston Rockets.
Westbrook scored 32 points in a triple-double and the Thunder held off the Rockets 115-113 on Friday night to cut their deficit to 2-1 in the first-round Western Conference playoff series.
Westbrook scored 51 points in a triple-double on Wednesday, but the Rockets won, and Westbrook was criticized for shooting too much. This time, shots and contributions were distributed more evenly throughout the game. Taj Gibson scored 20 points and Andre Roberson and Victor Oladipo each added 12 for the Thunder, who shot 55 percent from the field.
“I had to do a better job of trusting my teammates for 48 minutes,” Westbrook said. “Tonight, those guys made plays throughout the whole game. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
James Harden scored 44 points for Houston, but he missed a 3-pointer that could have won the game just before time expired.
“We were down two, so I just wanted to get the best shot available, honestly,” Harden said. “I didn’t try to overthink it or whatnot. I just dribbled up the basketball court and I see the paint kind of close in once I passed halfcourt. I gave him (Roberson) a little jab, and he bit for it, and I just shot the ball. I shot it with confidence. It was a little bit short.”
Lou Williams scored 22 points and Ryan Anderson added 18 for the Rockets, who nearly overcame a double-digit, second-half deficit again. Instead, the Thunder will host Game 4 on Sunday in a much better position.
“We did enough offensively,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We just didn’t have the will or the want early in the game. It’s a little bit of a recurring theme we have. It takes us a while to get going. We’ll address it and try to get it better, because we’ve got to play the whole 48 (minutes) like we did the last 24, and the last two games we have not done that.”
Westbrook also had 13 rebounds and 11 assists. It was his second straight triple-double and the seventh playoff triple-double of his career.
Houston closed the gap throughout the final period. Harden was fouled with 8.8 seconds left, and he made two free throws to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 114-113. Westbrook went to the line with 8.4 seconds to play and missed one of the two free throws, giving the Rockets a chance before Harden’s final miss.
Rockets: Harden had five assists and four turnovers in the first quarter. He had one assist the rest of the game. … Houston shot 50 percent in the first half but committed 10 turnovers, which led to 16 points for the Thunder. … G Patrick Beverley finished with one point on 0-for-6 shooting and fouled out.
Thunder: Oklahoma City opened the game with an 11-2 lead. … Gibson was called for a technical foul with 1:22 left in the first half. … G Semaj Christon, who played 21 minutes combined in the first two games, was inactive. … Oladipo shot 5 for 26 in the first two games combined, but he shot 5 for 8 on Friday.
Westbrook is averaging a triple-double for the series with 35 points, 11.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game. The Thunder are 5-2 in his career when he gets a playoff triple-double.
WELCOME BACK, NORRIS
Backup Thunder point guard Norris Cole provided some key minutes to help Westbrook. After not playing in Game 2, he scored five points on 3-for-5 shooting in 9:28 and did not commit a turnover.
Westbrook, on his so-called supporting cast: “We’re all one team. I don’t have a cast, I don’t have other guys. We’re all in this together and my teammates have been doing a great job all season long.”
Game 4 will be played Sunday afternoon in Oklahoma City.
This article does not involve County spending.
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