HOUSTON — Kevin Durant put all the body English he could muster into his final field-goal attempt, crouching, leaning, directing, or better yet begging, the basketball to go in the basket.
The ball hit the back of the rim, bounced high into the sky before coming back down to earth. It hit the rim once more, rattled around and dropped.
Durant had done it again.
The bucket was the go-ahead field goal with 36.9 seconds remaining. It enabled Oklahoma City to escape with an emotional 104-101 win in Game 3 against Houston on Saturday night.
“The Lord was with us,” Durant said of his final shot. “That's all I was thinking. As soon as I shot it and it hit the back of the rim I was thinking, ‘Not again. A tough 3 I shot. Maybe I should have drove. Maybe I should have got a foul.' But it bounced in all because of the good Lord, man.”
With the shot, Durant deflated the Rockets and all of Houston, as the Thunder took a commanding 3-0 series lead.
“He just made a lucky shot,” said Rockets guard James Harden. “It was good defense. The ball bounced three times around the rim and just went in. It just took the energy out of us. It was a big-time shot.”
Game 4 is Monday night.
Durant finished with a game-high 41 points, tying his career playoff high. He added 14 points with four assists while playing all but 44 seconds.
With starting point guard Russell Westbrook out for the remainder of the playoffs, second-year guard Reggie Jackson filled in and scored 14 points. He hit a pair of free throws with eight seconds remaining for the final score and grabbed the game's last rebound when the Rockets' last-second 3-point attempt bounced harmlessly off the rim.
“I thought Reggie did a good job,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He made some good plays throughout the game.”
Any and all questions about how the Thunder would fare without Westbrook were answered with emphasis early in the first quarter. Oklahoma City took a commanding 39-19 lead in the opening period, making 13 of its first 21 shots, including five of six 3-pointers, and all eight free throw attempts.
Durant dumped in 17 in the quarter, drilling six of his final seven shots in the quarter after missing his first two of the night. Six other Thunder players scored in the period.
“No energy,” Harden explained of his team's slow start. “We were playing sluggish. In the beginning of the game … they kind of hit us.”
Houston stormed back in the third quarter, outscoring the Thunder 27-14 to trim the deficit to 80-76 heading into the final period. OKC made just five of 25 shots in the third quarter and had four turnovers, four coming from Durant as part of his brutally cold quarter that came on the heels of his blistering hot first half. Durant went 1-for-7 in the period and scored his only points with 25.5 seconds left in the quarter.
“We got aggressive,” said Houston coach Kevin McHale. “We actually did what we said we were going to do, try to push him to people. Early in the game,
After trailing by as many as 26, the Rockets battled back and took a 94-93 lead with 3:45 remaining. It was their first lead since 9-8.
But Houston turned it over three times in the final 2½ minutes and the Thunder closed out the game at the foul line, with Derek Fisher making a pair prior to Jackson with 12.5 seconds remaining.