OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — 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 on Sunday night in Game 3 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. The Thunder had said he likely would miss the rest of the playoffs, but the team changed course Friday.
“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.
Game 4 is Tuesday night at Oklahoma City.
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. San Antonio, which shot at least 50 percent in the first two games, shot just 40 percent on Sunday night.
“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.”
San Antonio won the first two games by a combined 52 points, but things were different from the start with Ibaka’s return. Brooks also inserted speedy Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup in Thabo Sefolosha’s place. Jackson finished with 15 points.
“We bounced back tonight. We always talk about that bounce-back ability and we had that tonight,” Brooks said.
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 3-pointers, and both times, Westbrook answered with a 3-pointer. The last one, with 0.6 seconds left, gave the Thunder a 57-53 lead. Oklahoma City shot 56 percent in the first half, but turned the ball over 12 times. Ginobili had 20 points and made 5 of 7 3-pointers before the break to keep the Spurs close.
Oklahoma City extended its lead to 83-76 at the end of the third quarter. A runner by Durant, then a 3-pointer by Caron Butler pushed the Thunder lead to 90-76 with just over 10 minutes to play.
Notes: Thunder C Kendrick Perkins picked up his third foul eight minutes into the game. He played just 13 minutes and finished with four points and three rebounds. Backup center Steven Adams, a rookie, had seven points and nine rebounds. … Thunder G Derek Fisher took a hit and was bleeding from the top of his head in the first quarter. He got six stitches. … The Thunder shot 63 percent from the field in the first quarter but trailed 29-28 at the end of the period. … Westbrook was issued a technical foul in the first quarter. … Ginobili scored just three points in the second half.
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