Thunder big men, Kevin Durant even series with Spurs
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant was happily the sidekick, watching as seldom-used big men Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins stole the first three quarters.
But then came the important minutes. Time for the Oklahoma City Thunder to show it wasn’t too young, too reckless, too anything to have a chance in the Western Conference finals.
Durant was ready. Was he ever.
He scored 16 consecutive points in the fourth quarter and the Thunder forged a series tie by taking Game 4 against the San Antonio Spurs, 109-103.
Durant had 36 points, Ibaka had 26 and Perkins added 15 in front of another ear-splitting crowd Saturday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Oklahoma City is on to something, stopping the Spurs’ 20-game winning streak in Game 3 and refusing to step down in Game 4.
Durant blistered the Spurs with a series of late drives, pinpoint outside shots and even an alley-oop layup. He made seven of nine attempts in the quarter, rejecting the Spurs’ late bid to steal the game after trailing by 15 in the third.
Seemed as if Durant might have been the turning point, no?
“It didn’t seem like that. It was a fact,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said. “I was there. I saw it. He was great.”
Durant began his scoring run on a fadeaway with 6:33 to play and finished it on a jump shot with 1:32 left. He outscored the Spurs during the span, 16-11.
“I wouldn’t say I carried us,” Durant said with a straight face. “I was able to make some shots.”
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said it for him: “When a player that talented gets hot, it’s really hard to contain.”
It’s often been said that Ibaka and Perkins are more important to Oklahoma City than Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Actually, it’s never been said, but they mutually stated their importance to the cause with stunningly sharp games.
Ibaka is better known for his defense, leading the league in regular-season blocked shots. He made all 11 of his shots Saturday, including a memorable third-quarter play in which he faked Tim Duncan into the air, cradled the ball in his right arm and dunked.
Perkins was a total nonentity this series until making seven of nine shots in Game 4.
“Their bigs were making every shot,” Ginobili said, with the proper amount of surprise in his voice.
Ginobili had another rough game, committing six turnovers, and Spurs point guard Tony Parker was quiet yet again. He crushed the Thunder with 52 points the first two games but totaled only 28 the last two, including 12 points on five-for-15 shooting in Game 4. Duncan had 21 points for the Spurs, who were in an irritable mood long before tipoff.
A team official informed reporters that Duncan, Ginobili and Parker would not talk to the media after the morning shoot-around. Anybody want Gary Neal, the Spurs’ 10th man?
Then Popovich ambled over to reporters a few minutes later, chafed at a question about the evolving nature of NBA point guards, and promptly walked away, saying he was more concerned about “trying to figure out how to guard Kevin Durant.”
They certainly failed to do that in the fourth quarter and forgot about Ibaka and Perkins in the first half. The Thunder post players scored down low, on mid-range jumpers, pretty much wherever they wanted as Oklahoma City took a 55-43 lead.
The Spurs closed within 75-71 going into the fourth and threatened to take over the game, but it didn’t happen.
That was left to Durant.
“We’ve just got to keep believing, man,” he said.
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