The Rockets ran the Thunder out of the gym Saturday in Game 5, winning 114-80 and setting themselves to eliminate Oklahoma City in Game 6 of their first-round series.
Russell Westbrook came back from a quad injury, but it was James Harden who led the way with an 11-for-15 shooting performance.
What was a narrow halftime score line became a blowout when Houston went on a 19-2 third-quarter run.
Here are the key takeaways from Game 5 between the Rockets and Thunder:
Russell Westbrook started slowly in injury return
Westbrook didn't need to provide much offense in his playoff debut, which was good for the Rockets because he couldn't find his shot or rhythm. He went 3 of 13 from the field and scored seven points.
That Westbrook got in NBA-speed cardio work without the pressure of a tight Game 5 is the important outcome for Houston. He hadn't played since Aug. 11 and will be needed in a close-out situation for the Rockets in Game 6.
Harden carried the scoring load Saturday with 31 points in 28 minutes and should benefit moving forward with Westbrook in the fold.
Rockets showed more second-half poise . . .
Houston turned a three-point halftime lead into a laugher in the third quarter with a 37-18 period. Mike D'Antoni's squad forced turnovers and turned its takeaways into easy fast-break buckets. The Thunder were sloppy and harmed by a down performance from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who committed as many turnovers as he scored points (four).
Oklahoma City wing Lou Dort, who had been a force defending Harden earlier in the series, was exposed as a weak offensive link by the Andre Roberson leave-him treatment the Thunder's playoff offense endured in prior seasons. Dort looked uncomfortable with the ball in his hands and the defense sagging off, taking a reckless (and team-high) 16 shots in 23 minutes. He made just three of his attempts and none of his nine tries from beyond the arc. That lack of composure from Dort can't happen again in Game 6.
. . . except when P.J. Tucker head-butted Dennis Schroder
Tucker and Schroder were ejected in the third quarter when Schroder took a sneaky shot at Tucker's groin and Tucker retaliated with a head-butt. While Tucker had a legitimate reason to be upset, he has been in the NBA too long to lose his cool like that.
Expect more bad blood between the teams in Game 6.
PJ Tucker got into Dennis Schroder's face pic.twitter.com/fe4My9eKWG— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 30, 2020
Dennis Schroder with the flagrant 2 on PJ Tucker pic.twitter.com/IBc3Az6kFC— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) August 30, 2020