HOUSTON — First, the Thunder proved it could play without Russell Westbrook. Then the Thunder proved it could survive without its all-star point guard.
In perhaps the most emotional game in Thunder history, Oklahoma City's NBA team beat the Houston Rockets 104-101 Saturday night to take a three-games-to-none lead in this Western Conference playoff series.
With 41.9 seconds left, Kevin Durant's 3-pointer bounced high off the back rim, then nestled through the net, gave the Thunder the lead for good, 100-99, and OKC held on when Carlos Delfino's 3-point shot from the corner bounced off in the final second.
Some 36 hours after learning Westbrook would undergo knee surgery, and on the same day that it learned Westbrook would be sidelined for the rest of these playoffs, the Thunder rallied after blowing a 26-point second-quarter lead.
“It definitely is an emotional time, the last 48 hours,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We all love what Russell is about. Probably the biggest heart I've ever been around.
“But tonight's game was a great game. We wanted to come in here and get this win.”
Game 4 is Monday night in the Rockets' Toyota Center.
Durant had 17 points in the first quarter alone and finished with 41. But he and the Thunder cooled in the second half, and Houston climbed all the way back to take two momentary leads.
But the Thunder responded each time. Serge Ibaka hit a fallaway jumper to restore the lead to the Thunder, 95-94 with 3:13 left, then Durant nailed the 3-pointer.
Playing with amazing energy in Westbrook's absence, the Thunder zoomed to a 39-19 first-quarter lead and a 48-22 lead 2½ minutes into the second quarter.
But the Rockets slowly climbed back into the game.