James Harden came out focused and with the energy of a fully-healthy superstar despite starting the game with flu-like symptoms to lift the Houston Rockets past the Oklahoma City Thunder, 107-100 at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday night.
Francisco Garcia hit a dagger three-pointer off an assist from Chandler Parsons to put the Rockets ahead, 107-94, with under two minutes remaining. Thabo Sefalosha's three-pointer at the one-minute mark cut the Thunder deficit to 10 points, but it proved not to be enough.
Harden was brilliant after struggling in Game 4 and finished with 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 7-of-9 from the three-point line. Garcia added 18 points and added five rebounds and three assists on the evening. All five of Houston's starters scored in double figures to mitigate the struggling bench's lack of production.
Kevin Durant led the way for the Thunder with a game-high 36 points, but was scoreless in the fourth quarter as the Rockets keyed in on him to make things difficult for him. He added seven rebounds and seven assists,. Oklahoma City's struggles overshadowed Reggie Jackson's strong performance in place of injured star Rusell Westbrook as he finished with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting.
Oklahoma City finished just 8-for-33 from beyond the arc as they struggled to keep pace with the Rockets' hot streak from deep as they finished 14-for-35 and made big shots when it mattered most.
The Rockets jumped to a 50-43 halftime lead by going 8-of-20 from the three-point line and shooting a solid 46.3 percent from the field. Harden led the Rockets with 16 points at that point, while Durant had 18 to lead all scorers. Garcia poured in four threes in the first two frames as Houston chose to live by the outside shot.
Durant went into superstar mode late in the third quarter to spark a 13-4 run that pulled the Thunder within seven after trailing by as many as 16 in the quarter. When he wasn't scoring, he opened the floor up for his teammates to get easy looks. He finished with 18 points in the quarter.
OKC was in control toward the end of the half until Harden executed this crafty play to give the Rockets a key 2-for-1 while shocking the suddenly-resurgent crowd:
Durant made a runner to cut the lead to 10 points before Aaron Brooks hit a hook shot in the final seconds to widen the gap to 12 to close out the third after Houston had led by as many as 16.
In the fourth, it was more of Harden, who hit his seventh three-pointer at the 7:46 mark, that kept Houston in the driver's seat. When the game went into the waning minutes, OKC utilized the "Hack-Asik" strategy to send the 56 percent regular season free throw shooter to the line in hopes of exploiting his struggles from the stripe. He made them pay by making 9-for-14, and kept he Thunder from taking advantage and making a major dent in the score.
After the two-minute mark, the Rockets showed enough poise to stave off the Thunder's attempt at a comeback.
The series will now shift to Houston on Friday in the Lone Star State for Game 6 with the Rockets down 3-2.