Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka had the playoff game of his life in game 4 of the Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs. Ibaka went a perfect 11-for-11 from the field, and was also perfect from the free throw line by making all four of his attempts to give him a career playoff high of 26 points. The Thunder defeated the Spurs 109-103 on Saturday night to tie the series 2-2.
This performance by Ibaka ended up being the second best shooting performance in playoff history, as only Larry McNeill of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings back in 1975 shot the ball better. McNeill’s 12-12 shooting performance trumps Ibaka, but Ibaka joins McNeill and a pair of former Celtics as the only four players to shoot perfect from the field in a playoff game while shooting 10+ shots. Scott Wegman shot 11-11 versus the Los Angeles Lakers in 1985, and Don Nelson shot 10-10 versus the Buffalo Braves in 1974.
Ibaka, along with Kendrick Perkins also playing the game of his life, helped the Thunder get over the hump in a pivotal game where OKC would either make it a series, or the Spurs would be going home in game five trying to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals. Instead, Perkins decided to play like an all-world center, matching Ibaka’s effort with an outburst of sorts. 15 points on 7-9 shooting, 9 rebounds, and a strong defensive effort in the middle from Perkins stabilized the Thunder. On a night where James Harden and Russell Westbrook shot a putrid 6-23 combined for the evening, Ibaka and Perkins were just what the doctor ordered.
Well…that and Kevin Durant dominated in the fourth quarter.
Durant scored 16 consecutive points in the 4th quarter to suppress any and every surge the Spurs mustered up as the game drew to its conclusion. Its the type of performance that makes you ask the question, “why didn’t Durant win the MVP?” Its the type of scene that makes you believe that these Thunder might be able to overcome the Spurs and take their talents to the NBA Finals. Its the type of action superstars take that elevate them to all-time great status. All in a day’s work for Durant, as the wingman extraordinaire filled up the stat sheet with a final line of 38 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. He also committed only one turnover, saved a baby from a burning house, and blocked one shot. Okay, I made one of those up.
What’s pertinent for the Thunder in game five is the following: In two home games, supporting actors like Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins balled oh so hard and almost stole the show for best performance. In two road games, they played like extras in a B-movie rom-com that will only go into syndication on stations that I can’t find on my cable box. We expect players like Durant, Westbrook and Harden to produce on a nightly basis, (even if they haven’t) but the contributions of the role players must be substantial for the Thunder to steal a road victory. As the old folks say, “the series isn’t a series until a team wins a game on the road.”
For the Spurs, going on the road has meant that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been virtually nullified. Parker struggled in game four by shooting just 5-15 from the field, and Ginobili was never featured in the offense, just getting up seven shots for the entire game. Tim Duncan performed admirably, posting a 21 point/8 rebound effort on Saturday, but the offense seemed more intent on doing what they did for the past four games. Pass the ball, extra-pass here, extra-pass there, and hope that the shooters can get open. Yes, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard contributed 48 points, but Duncan could’ve done more. Head coach Gregg Poppovich will have to decide which philosophy he wants to stick to.
The series goes back to San Antonio on Monday, as the Spurs still control the series, but the Thunder own all the momentum.