James Harden

Without All-Star Russell Westbrook running the point, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder are struggling to close out the Houston Rockets.

So much for a sweep. This is suddenly a series.

James Harden scored 31 points and sank seven 3-pointers while fighting flu-like symptoms, and the Rockets beat Oklahoma City 107-100 Wednesday night to pull within 3-2 in their first-round playoff series.

Harden made the first seven 3s he tried and Houston led by as many as 16 to win its second straight, getting halfway to becoming the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.

”We just came out here and played pressure free. Go out there and just hoop, that was our mindset going into the game,” Harden said. ”The same thing back at home: just go out there and hoop. We’re an eighth seed. Nobody’s expecting us to win. So just give it what we’ve got. Simple.”

The Rockets have made it look much easier since Westbrook was lost for the rest of the playoffs to knee surgery before Game 3. With back-to-back wins, Houston had Durant blaming himself for just about anything that went wrong for the Thunder even though he scored 36 points and almost single-handedly kept his team in the game.

When asked about how first-time starter Reggie Jackson has done filling in for the injured Westbrook, Durant faulted himself for demanding the ball too often from the young point guard. When questioned about Kevin Martin’s awful three-point performance on 1-for-10 shooting, Durant offered that he needed to be more encouraging to the sixth man.

– Reported by Jeff Latzke of the Associated Press