Russell Westbrook hailed his team-mates’ determination and competitiveness after the Houston Rockets rallied to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night.
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Westbrook scored 31 points and the Rockets used strong defense down the stretch to earn a 120-116 victory. It was a 36th consective game with at least 20 points for Westbrook, who led Houston’s offense on a night James Harden scored 24.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 36 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton scored 27 points and Brook Lopez added 23 as the Bucks blew a chance to clinch the No 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Bucks led by one in the fourth quarter before Lopez scored the first four points of a 7-0 run that was capped by a triple from Middleton to make it 112-104 with about three minutes remaining.
But Houston scored the next nine points, highlighted by a three-pointer and a steal from PJ Tucker and a block by Harden on Antetokounmpo, to go on top 113-112 about a minute later.
Westbrook made four clutch free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
“Adversity showed up and we showed out,” Westbrook said. “I am so proud of all the guys in the locker room. They did an amazing job of competing for 48 minutes.”
Harden liked the tenacity his team showed in fighting back from the late deficit, too. “Things weren’t going our way, we weren’t making shots, but we just stuck with it,” he said.
“Throughout the course of the game we played some really good defense,” he said. “They are a good offensive team but we got stops when we needed to.”
Houston tied an NBA record for most three-point attempts in a regulation game with 61, making 21 of them. They also forced 22 turnovers.
In defeat, the Bucks set a new NBA record. It was the first time in league history a team had lost despite scoring at least 110 points, holding an opponent to less than 40 per cent shooting (39.6) and out-rebounding an opponent by at least 25. Before Sunday night all 177 teams who did that won.
“I think our execution, our certainty in what we wanted to do wasn’t where it needs to be and that starts with me,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. “So, I think a lot of tonight is on me.”
“Usually when we are up six two minutes to go, we usually close the game out,” Antetokounmpo said. “But we didn’t do that today, so we have got to learn from it and got to keep moving.”