Kevin Durant was in uncharted territory on Saturday night, playing in his first game without friend and teammate Russell Westbrook.
Durant knew it would be different, but vowed to do whatever he could to carry his team through this difficult period.
He delivered on that promise by scoring 41 points and helping Oklahoma City fight off Houston’s late rally to beat the Rockets 104-101 for a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven playoff series.
“I didn’t feel the same,” Durant said. “And I knew I just had to give my all from here on out … every game is for him.”
Durant checked his phone moments after leaving the court and smiled recalling the text messages he received from Westbrook.
“He texted me at halftime and right after the game,” Durant said. “Just said congrats and that he loved me.”
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, which bounced off the rim before falling in, to put Oklahoma City on top 100-99.
“We didn’t want to give up any 3s,” Houston’s James Harden said. “He just made a lucky shot. It was good defense. It just went in and took some of the energy out of us.”
A turnover by Harden gave the Thunder the ball back and Derek Fisher made two free throws to push the lead to three. 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.