By Randy Renner
At times Sunday night Serge Ibaka was limping, the rest of the time he was leaping to block shots while leading his Thunder teammates to a dramatic and inspiring 106-97 win over the San Antonio Spurs to bring new life to a series that had appeared to be dying.
Ibaka returned from a strained calf that was supposed to have kept him out of the rest of the playoffs to score 15 points, grab seven rebounds and block four shots.
“I did very well, I think,” Ibaka told TNT’s David Aldridge right after the game. “I just tried to give my teammates some energy. I will keep doing the same, try to be everywhere.”
Ibaka had to leave the game a few times to get some treatment and while he was resting also rode a stationary bike to keep his problematic left leg loose. A couple of times he had to limp back up the court, once after blocking a shot and once after falling awkwardly. The rest of the time Ibaka appeared to be pretty much his old self.
“He did what he’s been doing for us all season,” said Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. “He came out with a great mindset defensively , altered some shots, blocked some shots and he makes you think twice about going in there and you seen that tonight.”
Especially from Tony Parker who had had free reign in the lane in Games 1 and 2 but Sunday night struggled, going just 4-for-13 with four assists and four turnovers.
Westbrook led all scorers with 26 points, Kevin Durant added 25 and 10 rebounds and Reggie Jackson pumped in 15. Jackson replaced shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha in the starting lineup and provided a much needed offensive spark.
The Spurs struggled at the beginning of the game trying to deal with what was all of a sudden a four headed offensive monster.
“I thought our defense was pretty poor,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “I thought our first half was probably the poorest defense we’ve played in a very long time. I was very disappointed that we didn’t come out with a more of a foot-on-the-neck sort of an attitude. That’s very disappointing to me, that’s not the way you approach a game.”
The Thunder started fast hitting their first six shots and ended the first quarter at 63.2 percent. OKC went on a 14-2 run from the last of the third quarter through the beginning of the fourth to turn a skinny 81-76 lead to a much more comfortable 95-78 almost halfway through the final frame.
“I liked how as the game went on, our defense got better,” said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. Oklahoma City had not held the Spurs to less than 50 percent shooting in either of the first two games of the series, Sunday night San Antonio hit only 39.6 percent from the field.
Danny Green, who had killed the Thunder with 11 made threes in the first two games was just 3-for-12 overall and 2-for-6 from deep. Manu Ginobili was the only Spur who did much damage and he piled up the points in the first half, scoring 20 on a blistering 7-for-11 shooting. But in the second 24 minutes the Thunder shut him down, allowing him just three points on 1-for-2 shooting.
Ginobili was limited to just a bit over nine minutes in the second half because of some recurring soreness in his left foot. Ginobili said it was no big deal and Popovich used a question about his sixth man’s health to poke a little fun at former Spurs employee and current Thunder GM Sam Presti.
“Manu’ll be fine,” Pop said and then added a zinger, “or he’ll be out for the playoffs (like the Thunder had said of Ibaka 10 days ago). Hey I gotta have a little fun right? Tell Sammy I said that.”
Amid all the excitement of a Thunder win to crawl back into the series there were a few words of caution from the Thunder truth teller, center Kendrick Perkins.
“All we did is win one game at home and the Spurs are a great team, they gonna make some adjustments and come back strong. So we have to prepare, stay humble and worry about Game 4.”
And now, it turns out, Game 5 too.