Houston, TX – Kevin Durant is tired of being second best.
But without his running mate for the remainder of the postseason, he'll have to carry the Oklahoma City Thunder to the top of the mountain on his scrawny shoulders.
Aided by a fortuitous bounce, Durant took another step toward his ultimate goal.
His go-ahead 3-pointer with 41.9 seconds left capped a 41-point night and lifted the Thunder to a thrilling 104-101 triumph over the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of this Western Conference first-round series.
Oklahoma City led by as many as 26 in the second, but found itself trailing by two when Durant pulled up from the top of the arc. His shot ricocheted sharply off the back of the rim and hovered at the height of the shot clock. The ball came down and clanked off the front of the iron before again hitting the heel. The sphere then hit off the glass before falling through the hoop for a 100-99 Thunder edge.
"The Lord was with us," Durant said of the shot. "That's all I was thinking. I knew as soon as that shot hit the back rim, I was thinking ���Not again. Tough three I shot. Maybe I should have drove. Maybe I should have got a foul.��� But, it was able to bounce in."
James Harden threw the ball away at the other end to Derek Fisher, who calmly sunk two free throws with 12.5 ticks to play. Harden quickly drove in for two and Reggie Jackson, who started in place of the injured Russell Westbrook, made two foul shots with 8.0 seconds left for a 104-101 margin.
Carlos Delfino's step-back triple from the right corner over the outstretched arm of Serge Ibaka was off the mark at the buzzer.
Durant netted 27 points in the first half, was held to just two in the third, but responded with 12 in the final frame to tie his playoff career-high. He also added 14 rebounds for the Thunder, who will go for the series sweep Monday in Houston.
It was announced earlier Saturday that Westbrook would miss the remainder of the playoffs after undergoing surgery on his right knee to repair a torn lateral meniscus he suffered in Game 2.
The fifth-year point guard had never missed a game in his pro career.
"I just go out there on the court and I knew I had to give it my all no matter what. That's what I'm going to do for how ever many more games we have to play," Durant said of playing without Westbrook.
Jackson held up well, depositing 14 points in the victory.
Harden scored 30 points, Chandler Parsons finished with 21 points and reserve Francisco Garcia poured in 18 for Houston in defeat.
Jeremy Lin played through a right chest contusion he sustained in Game 2, but tallied just two points on 1-of-6 shooting.
Delfino's right corner triple with 3:45 remaining gave Houston its first lead since the 7:59 mark of the first, but back-to-back Ibaka buckets put OKC back in front, 97-94, with 1:25 to go.
Harden hit two free throws on the Rockets' next touch and after Ibaka missed a jumper, Garcia swished a trey from the right wing with 45.2 ticks on the clock vaulted Houston to a 99-97 cushion.
Earlier, the Rockets jumped out to a 7-1 start, but the Thunder closed out the frame by outscoring them 38-12 to take a seemingly comfortable 39-19 spread into the second.
Durant was 6-of-9 shooting and nailed both his attempts from beyond the arc in the first 12 minutes.
The onslaught continued in the second as OKC began the stanza on a 9-3 spurt. Durant started it with a trey and Jackson capped it with a jumper to push the advantage to 48-22.
OKC led 66-49 at the break.
"At the beginning of the game we went up big then they kind of hit us throughout the half. We were kind of sluggish and we weren't moving the basketball, we weren't moving our bodies and giving them too many easy layups," Harden said.
Houston, though, limited Durant offensively in the third to claw back into the contest.
Durant missed five shots during a 19-5 Houston burst that got the Rockets within 78-73 with 39 seconds remaining in the third.
Durant's driving dunk with 27.2 ticks was his only field goal of the quarter before Harden ripped a three-ball from the top of the key with 2.8 seconds to whittle the deficit to 80-76 entering the fourth.
The Thunder were 28-of-30 from the foul line ... Both teams turned the ball over just 11 times ... Garcia and Houston head coach Kevin McHale were whistled for technical fouls in the first quarter ... Ibaka finished with 17 points and 11 boards.