Los Angeles (AFP) – James Harden scored 24 points as the Houston Rockets booked their spot in the second round of the NBA playoffs by crushing the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-104 in game five on Wednesday.
Clint Capela scored a team-high 26 points and had 15 rebounds for the top seeded Rockets who pulled away in the third quarter to win their series four games to one.
“When I get that confidence from my teammates there is no limit to what I can do,” said Harden.
“We knew how tough this game was going to be. We wanted to continue to grind it out and came out with the win. In the second half we picked up our intensity and won the game.”
Elsewhere, LeBron James capped another milestone night with a buzzer-beating three-pointer that lifted the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 98-95 win over Indiana and within one win of advancing in the playoffs.
Not to be outdone, Russell Westbrook scored 45 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder came back from 25 points down in the second half to fight off elimination and beat the Utah Jazz 107-99.
Houston will now play the winner of the Utah-Oklahoma City series, which the Jazz now lead 3-2.
The Rockets are off to the second round for the second year in a row after eliminating the eighth-seeded Timberwolves.
After scoring 22 points in Houston’s 50-point third quarter in a game four rout on Monday, Harden tallied half of Houston’s 30 points in the third quarter on Wednesday to give Houston the lead for good.
Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Jamal Crawford added 20 points off the bench.
Houston’s series clincher highlighted the Western Conference matchups but James provided the night’s biggest individual fireworks.
In Cleveland, the victory gave the Cavs a 3-2 lead in the best-of seven Eastern Conference series, which they’ll try to finish off on Friday in Indianapolis.
James blocked a driving Victor Oladipo’s shot at the rim to keep the score tied at 95-95, keeping the Cavs alive and ensuring them the final possession with three seconds remaining.
Cleveland got the ball to their superstar, who dribbled in, pulled up at the top of the arc and fired over Thaddeus Young for his only three-pointer of the game.
James beat his chest in triumph, then jumped on the scorers’ table to acknowledge the crowd.
He finished with 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, making all 15 of his free throws.
His 21st playoff game of 40 points or more saw James move past Jerry West for second all-time on a list led by Michael Jordan with 38.
– Stay alive –
In Oklahoma City, the Thunder fended off elimination on the back of their superstar Westbrook, who scored 20 of his 45 points in the third quarter.
Westbrook also had 15 rebounds and seven assists. Paul George added 34 points and eight rebounds.
“All pride, all pride,” said George. “We’re not gonna lose here.
“He was special,” George said of Westbrook. “A lot of what went on in that third quarter was because of him. His energy was everything.”
Westbrook registered back-to-back three-pointers, then made a layup with five minutes left in the third quarter to cut Utah’s lead to 73-60.
Westbrook’s drained another three-pointer tied the game 78-78 heading into the fourth quarter.
“Just picked my spots and tried to be aggressive,” Westbrook said.
Utah takes a 3-2 lead back to Salt Lake City for game six on Friday.
In Toronto, the Eastern Conference top seeds Raptors moved within one victory of advancing, taking a 3-2 series lead over the Washington Wizards with a 108-98 home win.
DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points, Kyle Lowry added 17 as the Raptors bounced back from defeats in games three and four.
Delon Wright scored 16 off the bench for Toronto, producing nine of their last 14 points of the game.