The Air Congo returned to the Thunder line up and was the driving force behind Oklahoma City’s ability to make the Western Conference Finals a series again.
In what some called a desperation decision, Oklahoma City Thunder head coach made some wholesale changes to the starting line up and then with the return of Serge Ibaka, the Thunder found their groove. Oklahoma City beat the San Antonio Spurs 106-97 in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. Oklahoma City pulls with 2-1 on the series, with Game 4 on Tuesday night here in Oklahoma City.
Ibaka hit his opening shot, which set the tone for the entire game. Oklahoma City would jump on the Spurs from the opening tip. Ibaka would hit his first five shots, and gave all Spurs’ fans nightmares from 2012 Western Conference Finals when Ibaka went 11-of-11 from the floor. He had blocked two shots before finally sitting down.
Ibaka finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in just 30 minutes. While the Thunder didn’t actually limit what the Spurs did shooting percentage wise when Ibaka was in and off. However, he alter shots and forced Tony Parker and others to think when they came into the paint.
Limping across the court, blocking shots, and just giving 110 percent. He’s was the epitome of Oklahoma and Thunder basketball. Giving everything, despite pain and potential failure. He puts his body on the line for the good of the team and it paid off. Durant called him his brother said “That’s we want out of a team mate.”
Oklahoma City went on a 11-0 run in the second quarter to put Oklahoma City up 42-36 with 5:45 on a Kevin Durant break away dunk. That was Oklahoma City’s largest lead of the series at that point. Russell Westbrook struggled throughout the first half, but a 36-foot 3-pointer swished in to give Oklahoma City the 57-53 at halftime.
After Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins scored just nine points in two games, Brooks made the change and it paid off immensely. Jackson, Ibaka and Perkins combined to score 34 points. It was the offensive spark the team needed to keep up with the Spurs hot shooters.
Jackson, while contending on Danny Green, was persistent all night. He forced Green to hit shots over him and it eventually forced Green into ill-advised shots and he went into the Green who closed out the NBA Finals by going 2-of-11 from 3-point range. It was solid effort by a young player in Jackson who’s not known for his defense.
Westbrook finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He had five turnovers, but four of them were in the first half. Durant had 25 points, 10 rebounds and four turnovers. He didn’t have a turnover in the second half. Jackson chipped in 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting.
Another strong court in the third put Oklahoma City up by as many as 10 in the quarter and they had a seven point lead heading into the final frame. They decided that was enough. They started out on a 7-0 run to come out of the start of the quarter, capped by a Caron Butler 3-pointer. Oklahoma City jumped up 90-76 with 10:11 left.
Oklahoma City pushed the lead out to 20 on a Westbrook lay up with 3:45 to go, and Oklahoma City led 104-84.
Steven Adams came off the bench in relief of Perkins foul trouble, and was impressive. He finished with seven points, nine rebounds and four blocks. He was constantly in the paint causing havoc for Spurs shooters all night.
Keys to the Game
KD and Russ: A+
When you need your super stars to come out shining, they did. They came out, combining for 51 points, including a combined 16-of-16 from free throw line. They were aggressive and just found ways to take over the game. Westbrook struggled in the first half, but it was Durant who picked him up and when Durant struggled in the third, it was Westbrook who exploded for the Thunder. It’s something we need to see the rest of the playoffs.
Perimeter Defense: B-
First half was a struggle for the Thunder, but the 50 percent shooting by the Spurs was in good spirits. They were able to hit contested shots over the Thunder. Those shots didn’t fall in the second half, and Oklahoma City were able to capitalize on those misses. While Danny Green and Manu Ginobili hit a lot of shots, but it was really uplifting to see Oklahoma City keep their heads up and keep battling.
Serge No-Fly Zone: A
38 points. Oklahoma City allowed 66 points in Game 1 and 54 in Game 2 in the paint. Tonight, because of Ibaka, they were forced the Spurs to alter their game plan and it paid off big time. Oklahoma City limited San Antonio to just 20-of-42 in the paint compared to the over 60 percent in the first two games. It was a huge difference and might have been a series changer.