Harden powers past illness, lifts Rockets


OKLAHOMA CITY — James Harden lacked the energy to get through a morning shoot-around. Then he found the strength to fill the Houston Rockets with life in a playoff series that had started to look hopeless.

Harden scored 31 points and sank seven 3-pointers while fighting flu-like symptoms, and the Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-100 Wednesday night to pull within 3-2 in their first-round playoff series.

Harden made the first seven 3s he tried and Houston led by as many as 16 to win its second straight, getting halfway to becoming the first team in NBA history to overcome an 0-3 series deficit.

“I just tried to go out there and give it all I had,” said Harden, adding that he slept all day. “It was a win or go home, so I got some shots to fall and I just tried to not think about it.”

The Rockets played without starting point guard Jeremy Lin for the second straight game because of a bruised chest muscle. Key reserve Carlos Delfino didn’t play in the second half because of a sore left foot.

They still had plenty of offense, getting 21 points and 11 rebounds from Omer Asik and 18 points and five 3-pointers from Francisco Garcia. Patrick Beverley scored 14 and Aaron Brooks and Chandler Parsons chipped in 10 apiece.

“We just came out here and played pressure-free. Go out there and just hoop, that was our mindset going into the game,” Harden said. “The same thing back at home: just go out there and hoop. We’re an eighth seed. Nobody’s expecting us to win. So just give it what we’ve got. Simple.”

Oklahoma City eliminated half of Houston’s big lead before managing to stymie its own comeback.

Apparently doubting they could overcome an eight-point lead on their home court without All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, the Thunder resorted to intentionally fouling Asik — a 54 percent career foul shooter — with 5:33 to play. Asik went 8-for-12 from the line, extending Houston’s lead to 101-92 with 3:53 remaining before Oklahoma City gave up the tactic.

Kevin Durant scored 36 points for Oklahoma City, which must now travel to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night. Durant was scoreless in the fourth quarter, missing all five of his shots, and picked up a technical foul with 22.5 seconds left for complaining to referee Bill Spooner.

“We was on our way back and then also the Hack-a-whatever-his-name-is,” Durant said, forgetting Asik’s name, “it kind of slowed the rhythm down a little bit.”

Coach Scott Brooks said he was about to stop ordering the fouls against Asik if his team had made a shot on one particular possession. It didn’t happen and the 7-footer from Turkey made him pay.

“Give him credit. He stepped up and made shots and made his free throws,” Brooks said. “That’s a strategy we don’t use often.”

Asik missed three of his first six free throws, and the Thunder continued fouling him intentionally even after getting within 98-92 with 4:12 remaining. Asik hit three of his next four and then blocked a shot by Thabo Sefolosha as Houston started extending its lead again.

Reggie Jackson contributed 20 points for the Thunder, who leaned heavily on Durant for a third straight game with Westbrook out for the playoffs with a right knee injury. Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City’s sixth man who was acquired in a preseason trade for Harden, missed his first nine shots before making a jumper in the fourth quarter to finish with three points.

“They miss him everywhere. How would you not? He’s one of the top players in the league,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “They probably miss him in the locker room, miss him in shoot-around, miss him on the bus, miss him on the plane, miss him on offense, miss him on defense. Did I miss anything?”

The Rockets made a series-high 14 3-pointers on 35 attempts, making up for getting outscored in the paint, in second-chance points and on the fast break. Oklahoma City made just 8 of 33 from 3-point range, missing 14 of its first 15 attempts.

CELTICS 92, KNICKS 86

NEW YORK — Kevin Garnett had 16 points and 18 rebounds, and Boston stayed alive in the NBA playoffs, cutting the New York Knicks’ lead to 3-2.

The Celtics will host Game 6 on Friday night, needing two victories to become the first NBA team to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series.

Brandon Bass added 17 points, steadying Boston as it shook off an 11-0 deficit and pulled away in the second half to again stop the Knicks from winning their first playoff series since 2000.

J.R. Smith, back from his one-game suspension for elbowing Jason Terry with the Knicks way ahead late in Game 3, missed his first 10 shots and finished 3-of-14 for 14 points.

Terry also scored 17 off the bench.

Jeff Green scored 18 points, and Paul Pierce had 16 as the two franchise stalwarts extended this season — and perhaps their Celtics careers — at least one more game.

Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points but was just 8-of-24 in another dismal shooting night for the Knicks.

Pacers 106, Hawks 83

INDIANAPOLIS — David West scored 24 points and Paul George had 21 points and 10 rebounds to lead Indiana to a 3-2 series lead.

The Pacers have all won three home games in the best-of-seven series and are 5-0 at home this season against the Hawks. They’ll go to Atlanta on Friday with a chance to clinch the best-of-seven series. But the Hawks have won 13 straight at home against the Pacers, including both games in this series.

Atlanta was led by Josh Smith and Al Horford, who each had 14 points. And it was every bit as ugly as the Hawks’ first two double-digit losses in Indy.

Indiana took the lead for good midway through the second quarter and opened the third period on a 12-3 run to make it 62-46. The Pacers put it away when the Hawks lost their composure.