Oklahoma City, OK (SportsNetwork.com) - James Harden came up big down the stretch, and the Rockets survived a nail-biter against the Thunder, 115-112, when Russell Westbrook airballed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Sunday's anticipated showdown at Chesapeake Energy Arena did not lack for storylines.
Races for the Southwest Division, the final Western Conference playoff spot and the scoring title were front and center, and Harden stood out in the spotlight by lighting up his former team for 41 points before fouling out.
Westbrook entered the game virtually tied with Harden for the scoring lead at 27.5 ppg and nearly brought the Thunder back from 13 down in the fourth frame.
His 3-pointer with 3:12 remaining evened things at 100-100, but Harden went on a personal 8-1 run over a 1:10 span to help Houston pull out its seventh win in eight games.
Dwight Howard scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 23 minutes for the Rockets, who lead the Grizzlies by a full game for the top spot in the Southwest Division.
Westbrook finished with his 11th triple-double of the season, totaling 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in a losing cause. The Thunder have dropped three straight and are just a half-game ahead of the Pelicans for the No. 8 seed in the West.
Oklahoma City also wasted a 21-point, 17-rebound effort from Enes Kanter and 22 points off the bench from Anthony Morrow, who made six of the Thunder's 14 3-pointers.
"We turned the ball over too many times," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said of his team's 18 giveaways. "They got hot and we had trouble turning them off."
The Rockets never trailed after the first quarter, but a 12-1 Oklahoma City run midway through the fourth followed by Westbrook's aforementioned 3-pointer pulled the hosts even.
Harden quieted the suddenly boisterous crowd by pulling up from behind the arc on consecutive possessions and hitting 3s with a hand in his face. He grabbed an offensive rebound the next time down and made a fadeaway 14-footer, and Houston was suddenly in front 108-101 with 1:25 to play.
A pair of 3-pointers from Westbrook and another from Morrow kept the Rockets from easily pulling away, and after Corey Brewer missed a free throw with 5.0 seconds left, the Thunder put the ball in Westbrook's hands down by three.
Westbrook avoided a foul by Brewer and got a shot off, but his off-balanced try from well behind the arc fell short.
"We found a way to win," Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said. "The shots (Harden) made are just tough shots, and he made them. It was just a tough, hard-fought game all night."
Early on, Westbrook made his first four shots and had the Thunder ahead 10-3, but the Rockets countered with a quick 18-0 flurry that began with a Harden 3-pointer and three consecutive alley-oops, including one from Harden to Howard from beyond midcourt.
Houston carried a 27-17 lead into the second quarter and went ahead by as many as 13 midway through the frame, which ended with the Rockets holding a 55-47 cushion. It was an 83-77 game entering the fourth.
The Rockets won all three meetings vs. the Thunder this season, earning their first sweep since 2008-09 ... Houston outscored Oklahoma City at the foul line 31-18 ... Both teams have five games remaining. Houston opens a home-and-home set with the Spurs on Wednesday, one day after San Antonio visits the Thunder in Oklahoma City.