Serge Ibaka scored 15 points in a dramatic return from what was thought to be a season-ending left calf strain to help the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs 106-97 in Game Three of the Western Conference finals.
Russell Westbrook had 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and Kevin Durant added 25 points and 10 rebounds to help the Thunder cut the Spurs’ lead in the series to 2-1.
Ibaka started after missing the first two games of the series and had a significant impact for his team.
“Obviously Serge came in and gave us a big lift not only on the defensive end but the offensive end,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
Manu Ginobili scored 23 points and Tim Duncan added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Spurs.
Ibaka, who also had seven rebounds and four blocks, pointed to the sky as he left the game to cheers with 3:17 remaining and the Thunder ahead by 20 points.
The Thunder outrebounded the Spurs 52-36 after losing the battle of the boards in the first two games.
“I was very disappointed that we didn’t come out with more of a foot in the neck sort of attitude,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They killed us on the boards, they beat us in 50-50 balls and that’s very disappointing to me.”
A different Thunder
San Antonio won the first two games by a combined 52 points, but things were different from the start with Ibaka’s return.
Obviously Serge came in and gave us a big lift not only on the defensive end but the offensive end
The crowd roared when Ibaka’s name was announced during pregame introductions, and it got even louder when he started playing.
He had eight points, three rebounds and two blocks in just over six minutes of play in the first quarter.
Twice in the final minute of the first half, Ginobili hit three-pointers, and both times, Westbrook answered with a three-pointer.
The last one, with 0.6 seconds left, gave the Thunder a 57-53 lead, and Oklahoma City extended their lead to 83-76 at the end of the third quarter.
A runner by Durant, then a three-pointer by Caron Butler pushed the Thunder lead to 90-76 with just over 10 minutes to play.