OKLAHOMA CITY — Serge Ibaka returned to action Sunday, and the Oklahoma City Thunder got back into the Western Conference finals.
The forward, who missed the series’ first two games due to a calf strain, scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots, helping the Thunder post a 106-97 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Guard Russell Westbrook scored 26 points, and forward Kevin Durant added 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder, who trail the best-of-seven series 2-1. Game 4 will be played Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
Ibaka’s presence set the tone for the Thunder defensively. Oklahoma City limited San Antonio to 39.6 percent shooting, while the Thunder hit 45.7 percent of their shots from the floor.
Leading by seven, the Thunder began the fourth quarter with a flurry. Buckets by guard Reggie Jackson and Durant plus a 3-pointer from forward Caron Butler pushed the advantage to 90-76 with 10:11 left.
San Antonio tried to respond, but it was the Thunder’s night. Oklahoma outscored the Spurs 9-6 over the next four minutes before Spurs coach Gregg Popovich emptied his bench with his team trailing by 17.
Westbrook also tallied eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals, though he committed five turnovers.
Guard Many Ginobili led the Spurs with 23 points off the bench. Forward Tim Duncan added 16 points and eight rebounds. Guard Tony Parker was held to nine points and four assists.
It only took 38 seconds for Ibaka to make his first impact of the game. He scored the game’s first basket on a midrange jumper. He then hit his next three shots.
However, he made his biggest impact on defense. The Spurs scored only 12 points in the paint during the first quarter as they held a 29-28 lead. The combination of Ibaka and center Steven Adams forced San Antonio to alter their shows when driving into the lane.
Ginobili came off the bench to settle down the Spurs and help them keep the Thunder’s lead in single digits. He knocked down two 3-pointers in the final minute of the first half.
However, after a terrible shooting start, Westbrook answered each of Ginobili’s shots with a 3-pointer of his own to close out the half. Oklahoma City emerged with its first halftime lead of the series, 57-53.
NOTES: In addition to reinserting F Serge Ibaka into the lineup, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks started G Reggie Jackson in place of G Thabo Sefolosha, who didn’t score a point in the series’ first two games. “He gives us another guy that can attack,” Brooks said of Jackson. “He gives us another guy that can play pick-and-roll offensively. He gives us another guy that can get opportunities on the side to attack their defense.” .. San Antonio G Tony Parker took advantage of the three days off between Game 2 and Game 3. “I feel pretty good,” Parker said. “The extra days definitely helped, so hopefully … I can get my full speed back. I was surprised when I looked at the schedule. I was like, man, if I can survive the first two games, I’ll be OK for the rest of the series.”
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