NBA

Russell Westbrook outduels James Harden in instant classic as Thunder win Game 3

Hot take: Game 3 between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder was one of the best basketball games of 2016-17.

James Harden scored 44 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished six assists (along with seven turnovers), but it wasn't enough: Russell Westbrook tallied 32 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists as the Thunder held on for a 115-113 win.

Harden was great. Russ was great. That game was great. The NBA is great. This is just so much fun.

— nick wright (@getnickwright) April 22, 2017

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Harden had one last look for Houston in the closing seconds thanks to three missed free throws from Wesbrook over the final minute but came up short on a potential game-winning 3-pointer.

Westbrook was at his best for much of the night: trusting his teammates, disrupting the Rockets offense, and driving to the rim instead of settling for jumpers. In fact, he didn't attempt a 3-pointer until 35 seconds left in regulation. He missed, but Steven Adams was there for the putback.

Giant tip-in from Steven Adams with 35 seconds left to help secure the win! #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/zxlDW8Yy1c

— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 22, 2017

The duel between two of the top MVP candidates was the second straight nail-biter in the series, as the Rockets posted a 115-111 win on Wednesday. Westbrook set a recordin that Game 2 with the first 50-point triple-double in NBA history, but his reluctance to trust his teammates down the stretch cost Oklahoma City a chance to seize home-court advantage.

Harden was the one to receive criticism on Friday night, as he took that last 3-pointer with time on the clock and a possible path to the basket. However, with the Rockets on the road and Patrick Beverley fouled out, taking the chances on the 3 was probably a better play than trying to win in overtime.

Game 4 is Sunday at 3:30 PM ET in Oklahoma City. The Rockets lead the series 2-1. Oh, and by the way: Westbrook is averaging a triple-double so far in the playoffs(35.0 points, 11.3 rebounds, 10.3 assists per game).

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Erik Williams