Houston Rockets' James Harden made a vital block
Houston Rockets' James Harden made a vital block Image Credit: AP

Miami: James Harden’s shooting touch deserted him, but the Houston star came up big on the defensive end in the Rockets’ 104-102 series-clinching win over Oklahoma City in the NBA play-offs on Wednesday.

Harden leapt to block a potential game-winning three-point attempt by Thunder rookie Luguentz Dort with 4.8 seconds remaining as the Rockets held on through a frantic finish to win the best-of-seven Western Conference series four games to three and book a second-round showdown with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

In a closely contested game, Houston took the lead for good, 103-102, on PJ Tucker’s driving basket with 1:25 remaining.

The ball changed hands several times before the Thunder got it into the hands of the red-hot Dort, whose dream night was ended by Harden’s big block.

Houston’s Robert Covington drained a free throw with 1.4 seconds left to make it 104-102.

Then Harden was called for a foul on Danilo Gallinari before the ball was inbounded, giving the Thunder a free throw and the ball.

Gallinari missed from the foul line and the Thunder turned the ball over on the final inbounds pass.

“I couldn’t make a shot, turning the ball over, just everything that was not supposed to happen,” said Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer who had just 17 points on four-of-15 shooting.

“But I just kept sticking with it,” he said. “Defensively I had to make a play.”

Covington and Eric Gordon scored 21 points apiece for the Rockets. Covington also pulled down 10 rebounds and Russell Westbrook added 20 points for Houston against his former team.

Dort, a 21-year-old undrafted Canadian, scored a career-best 30 points for the Thunder and Chris Paul, who was traded for Westbrook before the season, added a triple-double of 19 points 12 assists and 11 rebounds for Oklahoma City.

Butler seals Heat win

Earlier in the NBA’s coronavirus quarantine bubble in Orlando, the Miami Heat went down to the wire to take a 2-0 lead over the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in their Eastern Conference second-round series.

Jimmy Butler, fouled on a potential game-winner at the buzzer, calmly made two free throws to seal a 116-114 victory.

Goran Dragic scored 23 points — his sixth straight play-off game with at least 20 — to lead seven Heat players in double figures.

Butler’s shot as time expired missed, but officials said he was fouled by Giannis Antetokounmpo and he had his chance to win it at the line.

“I knew I was going to make one out of two, and that’s all we needed,” Butler said.