By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
As the San Antonio Spurs broke free of a tie with the Oklahoma City Thunder late in the third quarter and then increased their lead to six points with a couple of Boris Diaw baskets less than a minute into the fourth you could just see Thunder fans start to squirm in their seats.
You could almost hear them saying to each other, ‘on no, not AGAIN.’
But a collapse was definitely coming and a superstar was set to explode.
This time though, it wasn’t the Thunder who would blow a fourth quarter lead and it wasn’t Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge who would explode in a shower of points.
It was the Spurs faltering and sputtering down the stretch and Kevin Durant taking over, hitting shots from deep in the paint and way out on the perimeter and it was Durant playing defense too.
And it was the Thunder coming from behind and then blowing past the Spurs to win 111-97 and tie their Western Conference Semi-Final series 2-2.
KD was was 6-for-6 overall and 2-for-2 from deep outscoring the Spurs 17-16 all by himself in the final 12 minutes. He finished with 41 points, tying his career playoff high.
“Those 40-point nights they don’t come a lot,” Durant told reporters after the game. “I know at any given moment I can go off and hit a few shots. I just tried to stay with it and play as hard as I can on both ends of the floor and leave it all out there and live with the results.”
“He was great, he was great,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “I don’t know what else to say, he was fantastic.”
And on the defensive end Durant and his teammates finally put a blanket over Leonard and Aldridge who were a combined 0-for-7 and managed one point on a free throw in the fourth quarter.
Up until then that pair had combined to score 40 points on 15-for-30 shooting and the Thunder had allowed the Spurs to shoot 51.6 percent overall.
And up until the final frame Durant had been struggling some with his shot. He’d scored 24 points but he was 1-for-7 from beyond the arc and 8-for-19 overall.
Steven Adams and Dion Waiters kept the Thunder in the game with each going 6-for-8 through three quarters with Adams scoring 16 points and Waiters 14. Kid Kiwi finished with those 16 and Waiters added three more and finished with 17.
As it has one way or the other for the Thunder this season, everything changed in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder finished the game with a 34-16 run, shooting 57.1 percent overall and 71.4 percent on threes (5-for-7). OKC held the Spurs to just 33.3 percent shooting overall and 0-for-4 from deep.
They outrebounded the Spurs in the last quarter 15-6 and had eight assists on their 12 made baskets while the Spurs assisted on just one of their seven.
Russell Westbrook, who’d vowed to shoot less and get teammates involved more finished with 14 points on 18 shots and 15 big assists, plus three steals including a strip of Tony Parker and a feed to Durant on a runout to put the Thunder up eight and set the crowd roaring.
“We still had a couple minutes left in the game (after the play),” Durant said. “Our crowd was phenomenal tonight, probably the loudest I’ve ever heard them, but I just tried to stay in the moment.”
It all added up to the Thunder’s best fourth quarter of the playoffs and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with the season teetering on the brink had the Spurs won to go up 3-1 in the series.
“It’s 2-2 now,” Durant pointed out. “We have a huge game coming up on their home floor, but I just tried to worry about tonight. Our whole team did a great job.”
Game 5 is set for Tuesday night in San Antonio and with the Thunder’s win tonight there will be a Game 6 back in OKC no matter what on Thursday night.