By Kristie Rieken
The Associated Press
HOUSTON — Kevin Durant scored 41 points in his first game without injured All-Star Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder fought off Houston’s late rally to beat the Rockets 104-101 on Saturday night for a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven playoff series.
Durant scored 27 points in the first half, and the Thunder led by 26 points before a big third-quarter rally by the Rockets put them within striking distance.
Houston regained the lead with about 4 minutes left, and was up with less than a minute remaining. But Durant hit a 3-pointer seconds later to put Oklahoma City on top 100-99.
A turnover by James Harden gave the Thunder the ball back and Derek Fisher made two free throws to push the lead to 3. Harden made a layup, but Reggie Jackson hit two more free throws after that.
Houston had a last chance, but Carlos Delfino’s 3-pointer fell short.
Harden scored 30 points to lead the Rockets in the first playoff game in Houston since 2009.
Game 4 is Monday night in Houston
Westbrook was injured in Game 2 and had season-ending knee surgery Saturday. It was the first time Durant had ever played without Westbrook, who hadn’t missed a game in his career before Saturday.
Durant tied a career high for the playoffs, and he added 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. Jackson started in place of Westbrook and had 14 points, and Ibaka added 17 points and 11 rebounds.
A 3-pointer by Chandler Parsons tied it with 5:46 left and Delfino gave Houston its first lead since early in the first quarter, 94-93, about 2 minutes later.
Ibaka made four straight points after that, ending with a reverse layup, to make it 97-94 with about a minute and a half left.
Harden hit a pair of free throws. Then Francisco Garcia’s 3-pointer put them up 99-97 with 45 seconds left, before the clutch shot by Durant.
The Rockets rallied from a 15-point deficit to take a lead in the fourth quarter in Game 2. But they weren’t able to hold on and Oklahoma City got the 105-102 win.
It was much the same this time, as Houston went up late only to fall again.
Westbrook’s absence didn’t seem to bother Oklahoma City early, as Durant had the big first half and the Thunder looked to be in complete control.
Things changed in the third quarter, as Durant was limited offensively and Houston outscored the Thunder 27-14 in the quarter.
Houston point guard Jeremy Lin, who suffered a bruised chest muscle in Game 2, started but scored only two points in about 18 minutes.
Parsons added 21 points for Houston. Garcia had 18.
After the big run got Houston within eight points in the third quarter, Garcia and Harden made 3-pointers around a dunk by Durant to whittle the lead to 80-76 entering the last quarter.
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