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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Harden scores 31; 22 for Covington; 20 for Gordon; Russ returns; Rockets Rout OKC in Game 5

Posted: August 29, 2020 -- 11:02 p.m. CT

Posted: August 29, 2020 -- 10:29 p.m. CT

ORLANDO, FL (ESPN Disney World of Sports Complex) -- The Houston Rockets defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 114-80 Saturday evening to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 first round series. Houston's defense limited OKC to 31.5 field goal percentage (29 for 92). OKC scored 31 points in the second quarter and 49 points combined the other three quarters.

"We did a better job of guarding the ball; of guarding their isos", James Harden said of the difference in Houston's defense from the defense in the losses in Game 3 and Game 4. "And things like that. Trying to protect the paint."

Harden added, "Individually, that's where it starts. It starts on the ball; and, I think we did a good job individually of taking on the challenge. Our weak-side defense was better as well."

Offensively, the Rockets got an efficient 31 points from Harden on 11 for 15 field goal shooting; 22 points from Robert Covington and 20 points from Eric Gordon. Covington scored 20 of his points in the second half - 14 in the 4th quarter. Covington snapped out of his three-point shooting slump making 6 of 11 from behind the arc in Game 5.

Harden (11), Gordon (8), and Covington (6) combined to score 25 of Houston's 37 points in the third quarter. The Rockets outscored OKC 37-18 in the third to lead 85-63 heading to the fourth quarter.

The Rockets led 20-7 with 4:39 remaining in the first quarter; however, Houston scored just 4 points to finish the quarter which, despite 5 for 26 field goal shooting, helped OKC stay within 10 (24-14) at the end of the first quarter.

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OKC guard Dennis Schröder 18 of OKC's 31 points in the second quarter. Houston led 48-45 at halftime. Harden finished the first half with 20 points while Schröder scored 19.

The third quarter started with a Covington three-point swish. Then, Harden scored a driving layup. Russell Westbrook split two free throws before Eric Gordon scored a driving layup. Houston led 56-45. Timeout, OKC.

Houston extended the 8-0 run to a 19-2 run to lead 67-47 with 7:43 remaining in the third. Less than 60 seconds later, Houston's P.J. Tucker and Dennis Schröder got involved in a scuffle. Tucker set a hard screen on Schröder. An offensive foul was called on Tucker; however, Schröder's right arm made contact in Tucker's "groin area". Tucker responded to the low blow with a headbutt to the back of Schröder's head.

After checking the replay monitor, the referees ejected Tucker for the headbutt and called a Flagrant Penalty 2 (which is an automatic ejection) on Schröder "because it was unnecessary and excessive" said NBA Crew Chief James Capers after the game.

Houston led 67-50 at the time of the skirmish. OKC got no closer than 16; and, Houston led by 22 (85-63) after 3 quarters.

"We were upset a little about giving up 31 points in the second," Mike D'Antoni said after the game. "That was what we were ticked off with at halftime; but, they came out (in the third); righted the ship; and, defensive started there. We down and made some shots. It was great."

Game 5 was Russell Westbrook's first game of this series. Westbrook missed the first four games of the series with an injured quadriceps muscle. Westbrook finished the game with 7 points (3 for 13 field goals); 6 rebounds; and 7 assists in 24 minutes.

"He just gives us some energy. He speeds up the game," D'Antoni said of Westbrook. "He's going to get better the more time he plays. I knew he was going to be a little rusty."

James Harden added, "He brought that energy. He brought that excitement that we were missing. And, we just need him. He's our leader. We all know what he does for the game of basketball and for our team."

D'Antoni and Harden both said the Rockets still have work to do to win the series.

"We got to win the next game," said Harden. "Tonight was a good start for us; but, we've got to follow this up with another great win."

"To close people out is one of the hardest things to do (in sports)," D'Antoni remarked. "It doesn't mean anything. We've got to win the next game; and, they've got to win the next game. So, they'll be no letting down -- at least not on -- our side. There better not be. Throw the records out and play one game Monday and try to win it."

With the Lakers eliminating the Portland Trail Blazers 4 games to 1 Saturday night, Game 6 of the Rockets - OKC series will tip-off at 8 p.m. on Monday, August 31.

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