By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
For a while on Thursday night Andre Roberson became what the Thunder have always wanted him to be.
A “3 & D” guy. Someone who could knock down some threes while locking down the other team’s best offensive player.
About halfway through the third quarter of OKC’s 113-99 win over San Antonio that closed out the Spurs and sent the Thunder on to the Western Conference Finals, Roberson had 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting overall and 3-for-3 on threes. Kawhi Leonard had 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting and no threes.
“I thought Andre played very, very well,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “He got some open threes and shot the ball very well.”
“He did a great job,” acknowledged Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He actually made three 3s which makes his defense which makes his defense even more special.”
Roberson has been enough of a pest for Leonard that the Spurs best all-around player was not able to dominate on either end of the floor. Roberson’s defense is a given but he’d missed all seven of his 3-point attempts in the first five games of the series. Knocking down his first three 3s last night helped keep the Spurs on their heels.
And on their heels is where the Spurs spent most of the series. After blowing out the Thunder in Game 1 and looking like they couldn’t possibly lose a game much less the series things had been trending the Thunder’s way.
“I give our guys a lot of credit for how they paid attention and locked in and tried to get better and improve” after that first game Donovan told reporters.
Russell Westbrook, who had just 14 points on 5-for-19 shooting in that opening game, said everyone just put the loss behind them and started over.
“We came out after that and had a different mindset,” he said. “We knew what we had to do to beat (the Spurs) and I’m just proud of our guys, everyone stepped up.”
Serge Ibaka stepped up and right smack into the path of Spurs future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan late in last night’s fourth quarter and made perhaps the play of the game.
Duncan was turning back the clock in the second half and the Spurs were gobbling up what had been a 28 point Thunder lead. OKC led by just 11 with still 3:12 to play. Duncan was rolling down the lane and going up for a dunk that would have sliced that once fat lead down to skinny single digits.
Except there was Ibaka.
He’d been kind of pushed out of the spotlight by the increased playing time and production of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, who’d finished the last games on the court together while Ibaka watched from the bench.
But in that moment last night, with the game teetering, Ibaka stoned Duncan’s dunk attempt, swatting it away for his third block of the evening. The move set the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd to roaring again and took the air out of the Spurs sails.
“We always give credit to our opponents, and obviously, OKC turned it up there and turned our execution into forced bad shots, and then we kind of trickled down from there and it snowballed," Duncan said. "We put ourselves in the hole. We actually played somewhat solid for the second half but it was too little, too late."
And when it comes to stepping up and doing whatever it takes what can you say about Adams’ effort?
Kid Kiwi was throwing up in the Thunder training room before the game. He suffers from migraine attacks once in a while and one was coming on hard and fast about an hour before tipoff.
Teammates were horrified, Kanter wasn’t even allowed back in the training room to check on his fellow Stache Brother so ugly was the scene.
But Adams wasn’t gonna let a headache stop him from playing in the most important game of his short career even though he said it felt like “an old mate with a sledgehammer just pounding at the back of my eye.”
Thunder trainers gave him an IV to help restore the fluids he was losing and out onto the court he went just before tipoff.
He hadn’t even warmed up before the game.
And they way he ended up playing no one had any clue about how much he’d suffered before tipoff and how much he was still bothered. He played a series high 40 minutes, scored 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting overall, even hit 3-of-4 free throw attempts and pulled down 11 rebounds.
Afterwards he shrugged off any attempt to label his efforts heroic.
"Man, don’t think I’m a hero or anything,” he laughed, “it’s just modern medicine, mate.”
Whatever it was the Thunder will take it and now the team so many questioned during the regular season is back in the Western Conference Finals for the fourth time in six years.