The first team to come down from down 3-0 to win a best-of-seven series in NBA history will not be coming in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.
On a night that already saw the Boston Celtics' bid fail against the New York Knicks, the Houston Rockets shared the same fate on Friday. Houston fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 103-94, before a dejected crowd at the Toyota Center.
As he has all series long, Kevin Durant came through with an ascendant performance on Friday. He finished the game with 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting and had nine points in the fourth quarter, atoning for his scoreless final 12 minutes in Game 5.
But the key for Oklahoma City was that Durant got help from secondary stars—seemingly for the first time since Russell Westbrook's season-ending knee injury.
Kevin Martin led the way off the bench with 25 points while Reggie Jackson did his best Westbrook impression, finishing with a 17-point, eight-assist and seven-rebound performance.
Martin's ascent was particularly welcome, as he had been going through a dreadful shooting stretch since Westbrook's injury. The 30-year-old guard, who came over to Oklahoma City in the James Harden deal, was scoring only 10.3 points per game on 28.1 percent shooting in the series' three previous games.
Friday night marked the return of the type of deadly bench scorer they hoped would step up in Westbrook's absence. He knocked down three shots from long distance, made all eight of his free-throw attempts and dribbled out the clock to advance Oklahoma City to Round 2.
In particular, the Thunder had a ton of success on both ends in a small-ball lineup. Kendrick Perkins played just four minutes, as Nick Collison had a particularly
It was a stroke of good fortune that was not shared by the Rockets, who saw their red-hot offense go stagnant on Friday.
James Harden's jumper went cold, his 26 points coming on an inefficient 7-of-22 shooting night. After knocking down his first seven three-pointers in Wednesday's Game 5, Harden could not find his stroke from distance.
And it didn't help that Houston's tertiary stars—Chandler Parsons' 25 points aside—failed to show up. Patrick Beverley, a revelation in this series, went just 4-of-11 from the field and scored eight points while failing to record an assist.
Jeremy Lin, who returned to the lineup after missing Game 5 with a chest injury, was mostly a nonentity. Lin had only three points in 13 minutes and sat out in crunch time as the Rockets tried to mount a comeback.
The Rockets were also without guard-forward Carlos Delfino, who was ruled out with a fractured bone in his right foot.
Friday night may have ended in bitter agony, but there will likely be more positivity radiating out of Houston upon reflection. As Alex Kennedy of HOOPSWORLD notes, this Rockets team exceeded all expectations and only has a bright future going forward:
The Houston Rockets have been eliminated, but this was an incredible season for that young squad. They exceeded all expectations.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) May 4, 2013
Meanwhile, the Thunder's long journey to defending their Western Conference crown will continue Sunday, when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis defeated the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, taking the final four games of a series it was once down 2-0.
A stalwart defensive squad, Oklahoma City is looking at a complete change of pace from Houston in less than 48 hours. But after such a draining series, the Thunder will likely use the rest of Friday night reflecting on how they barely escaped Round 1.