OKLAHOMA CITY — Stop the undefeated chatter. Put an end to the “Will they do it?” talk.
The San Antonio Spurs tripped over too many story lines to count in a 102-82 loss Thursday to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Spurs will not, it turns out, run the table in the playoffs after losing Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. Nor would they win a 21st consecutive game dating to the regular season.
In fact, they ran into something for the first time this postseason — a tough series.
The Thunder pulled to within 2-1 after finally deciding to play some defense and, sure, returning to its push-the-pace cadence that defined the team so often this season.
Kevin Durant had 22 points and Thabo Sefolosha scored a surprising 19 as the Thunder finally resembled the team that needed only nine games to get to the conference finals.
The Spurs won the first two games against Oklahoma City by averaging 110.5 points but their offense took a sharp U-turn in Game 3, oozing mediocrity for 48 minutes and stalling out with their second-lowest point total this season.
“Defensively, that’s as well as you can play against the best team in basketball,” Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said.
Credit Sefolosha with disrupting Spurs guard Tony Parker, who punctured the Thunder for 52 points in the first two games on 61% shooting, impressive accuracy usually reserved for a post presence such as Dwight Howard.
Sefolosha, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard who defended Kobe Bryant in the West semifinals, was switched to the 6-2 Parker for Game 3 and held him to 16 points on still-solid 50% shooting in front of the typically earsplitting Thunder crowd.
“We have to play a lot better if we want to win here,” Parker said.
The Spurs’ problems ran pretty deep. Tim Duncan had only 11 points on five-for-15 shooting. Manu Ginobili was surprisingly quiet, scoring eight points on one-for-five shooting. Starting center Boris Diaw had one point.
Parker, Duncan and Diaw sat out the fourth quarter, the Thunder leading by as many as 27.
“They beat us good,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said. “I thought they played fantastic basketball in every way.”
Before Thursday, San Antonio hadn’t lost since a 98-84 decision April 11 against the Lakers.
They were thumped Thursday in fastbreak points, the Thunder easily taking the category, 18-7. The Thunder also had 14 steals, Sefolosha accruing six.
San Antonio had only two steals as a team and committed an atypical 21 turnovers.
Oklahoma City needed to win to keep alive hopes for its first trip to the NBA Finals since 1996, when the franchise was in Seattle. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA series.
“We knew we’re not going to lay down and roll over just because we were down 0-2,” Durant said.
The preamble was almost as interesting as the game itself.
Thunder fans know how to celebrate, hundreds upon hundreds jamming the street next to the arena as TV analyst Charles Barkley rode up on a horse and ate some home cookin’ with the state governor for TNT’s pregame outdoor show.
In the less cheeky category, rapper Lil Wayne complained to his 6.9 million Twitter followers that he “was denied by the [Thunder] team to be in their arena….Go Spurs!”
A team spokesman confirmed that the rapper wanted courtside seats but none were available.
Oklahoma City was pretty tense once the game started.
The normally even-minded Durant was called for a technical foul from the end of the bench while protesting a shaky charging call on teammate James Harden early in the second quarter.
Earlier, Sefolosha was called for his first flagrant foul of the season after striking Ginobili in the neck as the Spurs guard drove past him in the first quarter.
The Thunder eventually settled down and outscored the Spurs in the second quarter, 32-17, never yielding after taking a 54-41 halftime lead.
There is now a series in the West. The Spurs know it better than anybody.