Originally Published: April 29, 2013

1. Sweep Reprieve: Rockets Live Another Day

By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

HOUSTON -- It's going to be strange, mighty strange, when the second round of the playoffs starts and Kevin Durant is forced to proceed with no Russell Westbrook or James Harden at his side.

We're not there yet, though.

The strange sight of Durant on the floor flanked by neither of his trusty sidekicks will have to wait, because the Houston Rockets just rose up out of their 3-0 hole Monday night to inflict a 105-103 defeat in Game 4 that didn't simply deny Oklahoma City Thunder their widely presumed sweep in the best-of-seven series.

Kevin Durant
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Durant (38 points) missed a brooming opportunity in Houston.

Fueled by a couple second-round picks and that frisky guard imported from Russia in January, Houston refused every opportunity to cave. The Rockets overcame Harden's considerable struggles to force a Game 5 in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, gave coach Kevin McHale his first-ever playoff victory ... and gave Dwight Howard at least one more nationally televised look at some of the pieces Rockets management will pitch as promising supporting casters when they make their all-out push for Howard in free agency come July.

And there's more: Houston just tacked another game onto Durant's increasingly taxing schedule. When that's the last thing he needs.

"What the panic for?" Durant said. "No need. That's only going to put more pressure on us. That's only going to make us feel worse."

No one was actually suggesting they go searching for a button to press, but it was a costly loss for the Thunder. So regret was unavoidable after this one, as much as Durant tried to downplay it, since OKC was so close to a brooming of the young Rockets that would have been so helpful.

Capitalize on Harden's frigid shooting, foul trouble and a whopping 10 turnovers -- one shy of the playoff single-game record -- and they'd have had until at least Sunday to live in their practice gym back home to work on an offense that is clearly sputtering sans Westbrook. Build on that 13-point lead in the first half when the Rockets seemed ripe for a KO -- as opposed to falling back into their stagnant ways of yore in the second half -- and KD gets an extended stretch of rest before trying to dealing with the Clippers or Grizzlies in Round 2.

Houston, however, wouldn't let it happen. It didn't matter that Harden missed all five of his shots from at least 15 feet out, including three in the final 1:23, because Parsons was racking up 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight dimes to become just the third Rocket ever, along with Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, to hit all of those benchmarks in one playoff game.

It didn't matter because Omer Asik, another former second-rounder like Parsons, rumbled for 17 points and 14 boards ... and because Houston finally shot it well from deep by connecting on 12 of its 27 flings from 3 ... and because Patrick Beverley, stepping up yet again with Jeremy Lin forced to sit with that badly bruised chest, continues to forget that rookies airlifted out of the Russian League at midseason aren't supposed to have an impact in the NBA postseason in April.

"We know we can play with these guys," Parsons said. "We know we can beat these guys."

False confidence? Probably. After Durant just rung up a ridiculous 38 points, eight rebounds and six assists while attempting a mere 16 shots -- against the solid trio of defenders (Parsons, Francisco Garcia and Carlos Delfino) Houston can throw at him -- it's doubtful you'll hear too many pundits over the next 24 to 36 hours proclaiming that the Rockets are capable of forcing a Game 6 back here Friday night.

Especially not if Harden stays, to use his word, "freezing" from outside.

"I did have a double-double," Harden joked after he finished with 15 points and those 10 turnovers, trying to lighten the mood.

When it was over, Durant was faced with the same task. The Thunder might be going home with a 3-1 lead, but it's not the most ebullient group after blowing leads of 15 and 26 points in Games 2 and 3, then surrendering 38 points in the third quarter of Game 4 to squander the last of another double-digit cushion. Not to mention how much they all miss Russ.

There was Serge Ibaka, lying flat on his back at the buzzer, shamed by how short he left a follow attempt right at the rim that would have forced overtime. And there was Durant, tasked with trying to lift Ibaka's spirit off the floor, taking on one more job to go with everything he's suddenly got to do on his own these days.

"I told him, 'Man, we can't take that hard,'" Durant said. "It's over with. You can't get it back. You can't bring it back. So let it go."

Dimes past: April 11 | 12-13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28

Marc Stein | email

ESPN Senior Writer
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

2. Around The Association