“James was fantastic,” McHale said. “James didn't feel good at all all day today. But I knew he'd play. He didn't have the type of game he wanted to have in Game 4 but we were able to win. And he came out and just had an unbelievably efficient game.”
Much like Game 4, the Rockets raced to an early lead after a hot start. Houston held a 30-26 advantage after the opening quarter, benefiting from a 16-9 spurt to start the game and more precision from the perimeter. The Rockets made five of their first nine 3-point attempts and walked out of the quarter 5-for-12 from long range. Harden, who scored 11 points in the period, made all three of his 3-point tries.
Unlike the first 12 minutes Monday night, both teams displayed much better ball security. Each team turned the ball over only once. Two nights previously, the teams combined for 13 first-quarter turnovers.
It didn't take long, though, for a relative aesthetic start to turn into a sloppy slugfest. The next 12 minutes, in fact, were filled with fouls, frustration and, frankly, ghastly shooting. The Rockets managed to survive most and extended their first-quarter lead to 50-43 at the half. The teams combined to make just 14 of 39 shots.
Durant had 18 of his game-high 36 points by halftime, making six of his first 11 shots, but he had little assistance. No other Thunder player had scored more than eight points to that point, and the lack of scoring threats led to Oklahoma City shooting 41 percent in the half. Nick Collison and DeAndre Liggins combined to make all four of their first-half attempts for eight points, but they were the only other Thunder players to connect on at least 43 percent of their shots.
Oklahoma City then gave up 37 points in the third quarter, as the Rockets made 12 of 17 shots and led by as many as 16 points.
It was the first period in which it became clear the Thunder could not stop the Rockets.
Things got so bad defensively that OKC began intentionally fouling Rockets center Omer Asik, purposefully putting him on the foul line with 5 1/2 minutes remaining.
But when Asik, a career 52.7 percent foul shooter in the regular season and 43.2 percent free throw shooter in the postseason, made eight of 12 free throws, even that strategy failed.
It characterized how momentum has shifted in this series, something Harden said began with Monday night's close Rockets win.
“We just came out here and played pressure-free,” Harden said. “Go out there and just hoop. That was our mindset going into the game. Same thing back at home. Just go out there and hoop.
“We're an 8-seed. Nobody's expecting us to win. So we'll just give it what we got. Simple.”