Playoffs 2020

NBA Playoffs 2020: James Harden shines as Rockets cruise to 3-2 series lead

The Houston Rockets are now one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals.

With Russell Westbrook back in the fold, Houston used a dominant second half to cruise to a 114-80 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder to take a 3-2 series lead. James Harden led the way with 31 points while OKC was paced by 19 points from Dennis Schroder, who saw his night end early with a double ejection.

For more on an eventful Game 5, here are some observations from the night:

Russ' return means rust

It was, by far, the biggest story of the game.

After missing the final two seeding games and the first four games of the series, Rockets All-Star guard Russell Westbrook returned to the lineup.

MORE: How did Westbrook look in his return?

Inevitably, there was some rust for Russ, who finished with just seven points (on 3-for-13 shooting), seven assists, and six rebounds in 23 minutes of action. That the Rockets cruised to a win without Westbrook near his normal self is both an encouraging prospect and a reminder of how important his presence is.

An efficient night at the office for Harden

In 28 minutes, James Harden finished with a stat line of 31 points, five assists and two rebounds.

While that's to be expected of the back-to-back-to-back scoring champ, it was the shooting splits that will catch your eye.

Harden shot a tidy 11-for-15 (73.3%) from the field including 4-for-8 (50.0%) from beyond the arc and 5-for-6 (83.3%) from the free-throw line. For a scorer like Harden, nights like these build momentum moving forward, meaning an even bigger performance could be in store with an opportunity to advance on the line.

Houston's third-quarter run

At the halftime break, the Rockets clung to a three-point lead.

Things blew open in the third.

Thanks in large part to a 19-2 run to open the second half, the Rockets outscored the Thunder 37-18 in the third quarter, leading by as many as 25 points in the frame. It put the game out of reach early on in the second half.

Tempers flare

At the 6:50 mark in the third quarter, there was a mix-up between OKC's Dennis Schroder and Houston's P.J. Tucker.

Schroder, who was the Thunder's leading scorer in the game, was whistled for a Flagrant 2 based on contact he made when fighting through a screen set by Tucker, who headbutted Schroder in response to his foul.

Both were ejected and their status for Game 6 will be something to monitor.

OKC's offence struggles

It was just an all-around tough game for the Thunder on the offensive end.

In the opening frame, OKC scored just 14 points on 5-for-26 (19.2%) shooting from the field. A 31-point second quarter made it appear that the Thunder had shaken off their woes, but that was far from the case.

Oklahoma City was limited to just 35 points in the second half, closing the night with 80 points as a team, its lowest output of the season. Its best scorers couldn't get going, either, as Danilo Gallinari was 0-for-5 from the field and scored just one point off of a technical free throw while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored just four points (on 2-for-8 shooting).

Rookie Luguentz Dort, who Houston dared to shoot from deep, finished with six points while shooting 3-for-16 from the field and 0-for-9 from 3-point range.

Despite being ejected midway through the third quarter, Dennis Schroder was OKC's leading scorer with 19 points in 21 minutes. That says all you need to know.

What's next?

The Rockets will look to close this series out in Game 6, which takes place on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

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