HOUSTON — James Harden scored 37 points to outshine Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets pulled away in the third quarter and coasted to a 118-87 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
The best-of-seven Western Conference series continues Wednesday night in Houston.
The third-seeded Rockets were up by 20 when Harden came off the bench with about seven minutes remaining. He went right to work — making two 3-pointers to power 10-0 run and push the lead to 110-80 with 4 1/2 minutes left. Harden, who along with Westbrook is a front-runner for MVP, went to the bench after that and both teams cleared their benches soon after that.
Westbrook had 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, but made just six of 23 shots and had nine turnovers for the sixth-seeded Thunder.
Harden also had nine assists and seven rebounds, and Patrick Beverley had a playoff career-best 21 points along with 10 rebounds for the Rockets.
The Thunder trailed by 15 entering the fourth quarter and six straight points by the Rockets extended their lead to 100-78 with about 7 1/2 minutes remaining. Lou Williams scored the first four points in that span, and Beverley found Clint Capela on an alley-oop dunk.
The Rockets scored the first five points of the second half to push their lead to 10 points early in the third quarter. After a timeout, Oklahoma City scored the next eight points with 3s from Westbrook and Andre Roberson to cut it to 64-62 with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.
Houston scored the next nine points, capped by consecutive 3-pointers by Beverley to make it 73-64 midway through the period.
Beverley went to the bench soon after that to a huge ovation and a high five from Houston Texans star J.J. Watt, who watched the game from a courtside seat.
Westbrook ended a scoring drought of almost 3 1/2 minutes for the Thunder with a layup after that. But Houston used an 8-2 spurt, highlighted by a 3 from Eric Gordon, to push the lead to 81-68 with just more than three minutes remaining in the third.
Harden made a pair of free throws to cap the third quarter and leave Houston up 89-74 entering the fourth.
It's the first postseason win since April 27, 2008, with Phoenix for Houston coach Mike D'Antoni, whose teams were swept in the first round in his last two trips to the playoffs in 2011 with the Knicks and 2013 with the Lakers.
Houston's victory comes after the team went 3-1 in the regular season against the Thunder.
The Rockets led 59-54 at halftime.
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Thunder: Roberson added 18 points with seven rebounds. ... Oklahoma City, which led the NBA in rebounding in the regular season, was outrebounded 56-41-on Sunday night. ... Jerami Grant had 10 points.
Rockets: Capela missed a few minutes in the second quarter to receive three stitches in his lip. He had 14 points and seven rebounds. ... Nene had 15 points. ... Houston had 31 second-chance points to just four by the Thunder.
Oklahoma City will remain in Houston for two days of practice before Game 2 on Wednesday night at the Toyota Center.
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