HOUSTON — Oklahoma City Thunder fans can breathe easy. There is no need for a potentially historical showdown at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday.
The defending Western Conference champion Thunder instead were able to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs with a series-clinching 103-94 victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 6 on Friday night before a sellout crowd of 18,357 at the Toyota Center.
Had OKC lost for the third straight time to the Rockets, it would have necessitated a Game 7 on Sunday afternoon, at which time Houston would have tried to become the first NBA team ever to win a playoff series after trailing 3-0.
Four days earlier, the Thunder needed just one victory to advance to the second round for the third straight season.
OKC instead lost two straight games with All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook sidelined after having season-ending knee surgery last Saturday.
Many Thunder fans quickly had become restless about being Russ-less after Westbrook suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in the second quarter of Game 2.
The freakishly athletic Westbrook had never missed a game in his NBA career, snapping the league's longest active streak with 439 straight appearances including the postseason.
The Rockets boldly had narrowed the series deficit to 3-2 and their momentum was felt all the way to Las Vegas, which made Houston a one-point favorite in Game 6 and marked the first time all series the Rockets had been favored.
It's an extremely rare occurrence for a No. 8 seed to be favored over the No. 1 seed, but Houston's ever-improving odds directly correlated to the absence of Westbrook that had left a talented OKC team temporarily dazed.
After falling behind 15-4 at the outset, the Thunder stabilized thanks to superlative play from reserve players Kevin Martin (25 points), Derek Fisher (11) and Nick Collison (10), and eventually pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Once again, three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant led OKC's attack with 27 points, while Westbrook's replacement, Reggie Jackson, added 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
The Rockets failed in their attempt to become only the fourth NBA team to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0 and would have joined the 1951 New York Knicks (against the Rochester Royals), the 1994 Denver Nuggets (against the Utah Jazz) and the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers (against the Dallas Mavericks).
In each of those instances, the home team won Game 7 to prevent the ultimate series comeback in team sports.
Elsewhere in the NBA, history repeated itself on Friday night as for only the second time in playoff history, four Game 6s were held on the same day.
On that previous occasion, all four teams that held a 3-2 lead closed out the series, which is precisely what transpired Friday as New York, Indiana and Memphis all won their series 4-2.