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NBA Playoffs: Spurs steamroll Rockets to advance to Western Conference finals

NBA Playoffs: Spurs steamroll Rockets to advance to Western Conference finals

HOUSTON -- San Antonio is heading to the Western Conference finals for the 13th time thanks to a player who has never been there.

The Spurs eliminated the sluggish James Harden and Houston Rockets with a 114-75 victory in Game 6 on Thursday night behind a season-high 34 points from LaMarcus Aldridge in a game they played without All-Star Kawhi Leonard.

Aldridge, who is in his 11th season and second in San Antonio, had failed to get out of the second round in his previous six postseason trips. He added 12 rebounds in his second big game of the Western Conference semifinal series to pick up the scoring slack with Leonard out after rolling his ankle in San Antonio's overtime victory in Game 5 on Tuesday night.

"He's really turned it on," coach Gregg Popovich said. "Demanded the ball, got in good position ... he was wonderful on the boards and of course he passes it really, really well and gets it moving for us."

Aldridge became the first Spur to score 34 points with 12 rebounds in a playoff game since Tim Duncan against Phoenix in 2008.

"I just touched it a little bit more tonight so I had a chance to figure it out," Aldridge said. "I was trying to be more dominant down there. So I was willing to take some contested shots tonight and I got into my rhythm early and after that I was good to go."

The Spurs were up by 19 by halftime in a game that was over quickly, and didn't let up to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time since winning the title in 2014. The 4-2 series win sends them to conference finals against the Golden State Warriors.

Trevor Ariza led Houston with 20 points on a night when MVP hopeful Harden capped his stellar season by tying a season low with 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting before fouling out with 3:15 left.

A somber Harden was clear about who was to blame for the loss.

"Everything falls on my shoulders," he said. "I take responsibility for it, both ends of the floor. It's tough, especially the way we lost at home for Game 6. But it happened and we move forward."

Houston coach Mike D'Antoni wasn't sure if the disappointment of losing a winnable Game 5 could have lingered with his team and contributed to this embarrassing blowout.

"It could, "he said. "I've been on both sides of this thing. Sometimes life hits you in the face. No matter what it was, we just didn't have it tonight."

Jonathon Simmons filled in nicely for Leonard, scoring 18 points and hounding the Rockets on defense.

San Antonio was up by 23 after the third quarter and scored the first seven points of the fourth to make it 94-64 and send many of the home fans streaming to the exits.

Already without veteran Tony Parker, who suffered a season-ending quadriceps injury in Game 2, the Spurs looked to be the underdog entering this one without Leonard's scoring and defense.

Instead, things went wrong early for the Rockets with Aldridge scoring 10 points in the first quarter as San Antonio dashed out to a 31-24. Houston was already down 50-29 when Harden took his first shot midway through the second quarter. He made that 3-pointer to whittle the lead a bit, but it didn't get the Rockets going.

The Spurs opened the third quarter with an 8-1 run, with six points from Aldridge, to extend their already big lead to 69-43 with about 9 1/2 minutes left.

The Rockets used a 7-2 spurt after that with 3-pointers from Ariza and Eric Gordon to cut the lead to 71-50 with about seven minutes remaining in the third.

A 3-pointer by Harden not long after that got Houston within 20, but San Antonio scored the next four points to make it 77-53 a couple of minutes later.

Houston, which relied on its 3-point shooting to get this far, couldn't make shots from long-range going 13 of 40. But the Rockets also had trouble scoring in general, making just 28.6 percent (22 of 77) of their shots overall.

Tip-ins
Spurs: Danny Green got a technical in the third quarter for a scuffle with Ariza. ... Patty Mills had 14 points and seven assists, and Pau Gasol added 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Rockets: Ariza received a technical in the third for the scuffle with Ariza. ... Coach Mike D'Antoni added Sam Dekker to the rotation after being criticized for not adding anyone to the rotation Tuesday in the first game since Nene suffered a season-ending thigh injury. Dekker had six points ... Clint Capela finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Stingy defense
The Spurs held the Rockets to less than 100 points for the third time in this series after they been limited to less than 100 points just five times in the regular season. The 75 points Houston scored on Thursday night was a season low and the fewest points the franchise had scored in a playoff game since managing just 70 against the Los Angeles Lakers on May 17, 2009.

They said it
Gasol on the lopsided win: "No one expected a Game 6 ... win like this, but we just played hard."

Up next
Game 1 of the conference finals is Sunday at Golden State.

Russell Westbrook hits dagger at the buzzer

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USA Today Images

Russell Westbrook hits dagger at the buzzer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Russell Westbrook made a 3-pointer as time expired, lifting the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 110-107 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night.

The Thunder blew a 23-point lead and trailed 105-102 with 4 minutes remaining before closing the game on an 8-2 run.

Westbrook, who notched his 18th triple-double of the season, made three free throws sandwiched around a bucket in the paint by Steven Adams to put Oklahoma City up 107-105.

Justin Jackson's 6-foot jumper off an offensive rebound tied the game. After a timeout, the Thunder got the ball in front of Sacramento's bench and Carmelo Anthony found Westbrook atop the 3-point line for the winner.

Westbrook lifted the Thunder from what would have been a devastating loss after a fast start in their first game since the All-Star break. They set a season high with 44 points in the first quarter and made 12 3-pointers but still had to rally in the final minutes to win.

Anthony matched his season high of seven 3-pointers and Paul George had three from beyond the arc, ending his five-game streak with five or more 3s. It was the second-longest streak in NBA history behind George McCloud's six-game streak in 1996 (see full recap).

Curry scores 44 as Warriors hold off Clippers
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry swished a beautiful buzzer-beater from way back early and hit another timely 3-pointer late on the way to scoring 44, and the Golden State Warriors returned from the All-Star break and had to hold off the Los Angeles Clippers 134-127 on Thursday night.

Kevin Durant had 21 points and eight assists, Klay Thompson added 19 points, and Draymond Green contributed 13 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Curry shot 14 for 19, including 8 of 11 from deep, in his third 40-point game of the season.

Coach Steve Kerr challenged the defending champions to begin games better on the defensive end, which they did. Then the Clippers nearly came back with a surge down the stretch in what became an entertaining back-and-forth in the closing minutes (see full recap).

Wizards spoil home debut for new-look Cavs
CLEVELAND -- Bradley Beal scored 18 points, Kelly Oubre Jr. added 17 and tried to untie the sneakers of one of Cleveland's new players, and the Washington Wizards withstood a late assault by LeBron James to beat the new-look Cavaliers 110-103 on Thursday night.

The Wizards nearly blew a late 11-point lead as James scored 14 straight points to pull the Cavs within 106-103. But Beal hit a driving layup and James missed a free throw and committed a lane violation while intentionally missing the second one and the Wizards held on.

Washington is 8-2 since star guard John Wall went down with a knee injury. Tomas Satoransky, who has been starting in Wall's spot, added 17 points and eight assists.

James, back from winning MVP honors at the All-Star Game, scored 32 -- 14 in the fourth -- for the Cavs, who dropped to 2-1 since acquiring four new players before the trade deadline. J.R. Smith added 15 for Cleveland.

The Wizards spoiled the home debuts for Larry Nance Jr., George Hill, Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson, four new faces the Cavs are hoping can get them back to the NBA Finals (see full recap).

Sixers close in on 'something special' with great escape

Sixers close in on 'something special' with great escape

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — If the Sixers end their playoff drought this season, it’ll be because of the franchise’s big two.

All-Star Joel Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons showed just how much fun that could be Thursday night.

Embiid forced a turnover in the final seconds, Simmons scooped up the ball and made a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds to play and the Sixers scratched out their sixth straight victory, 116-115 over the Bulls (see observations).

The win halted a four-game road skid but, more important to the Sixers’ fortunes, had Embiid and Simmons’ fingerprints all over it.

Simmons finished with a career-high 32 points and had 11 assists and seven rebounds to come close to his second straight triple-double while Embiid added his ninth straight double-double — 30 and 13 rebounds with four blocks — to pace the Sixers on a night when they didn’t get much else.

“Joel and Ben carried us,” coach Brett Brown said after his team won on the road for the first time since Jan. 26. “I thought everyone else really had subpar performances. You felt like we came out of a break.”

The tanking Bulls — starting center Robin Lopez was a healthy scratch as Chicago joins the dash for better NBA draft odds — made 18 three-pointers in both teams’ return from the All-Star break and appeared to have the Sixers on the ropes after Zach LaVine’s triple with 1:02 to play made it 115-110.

That was the last time Chicago scored.

Simmons followed his miss with a layup and JJ Redick made a pair of free throws with 8.0 seconds left to set up the final defensive sequence that put Simmons at the line.

“First of all, we needed a steal and I saw Joel get it and he kind of lobbed it to me and I said, ‘S---, I better get it,’” Simmons said. “Stepping up to the line, I knew I was going to knock ‘em down. You have to have that mentality. I was put to the line and I can’t be thinking I’m going to miss ‘em.” 

With 26 games to play, the Sixers can move into the upper half of the Eastern Conference with a late surge, but will need solid play — and the workloads that come with it — from Embiid and Simmons. If their contributions Thursday (both players were on the court for at least 30 minutes) are any indication, Sixers fans might have more postseason success to celebrate in the spring.

“We stole that win. Sometimes you need those and that’s what we did tonight,” Embiid said. “It’s fun when you win games like that.”

It’ll be even more fun when games like that happen in the postseason … which looks much more plausible every game lately thanks to the big two.

“They feel something special is close. They feel something special that we’ve worked hard for for four years is just around the corner and no one is taking that for granted,” Brown said.

“There’s no entitlement. We just fight for everything we can get.”