After falling down 2-0 in San Antonio, the Thunder knew they had their hands full in defending their home court for the next two games of the Western Conference Finals. With a convincing 102-82 rout of the seemingly unstoppable Spurs in Game 3, Oklahoma City pulled within one win of making this series extremely interesting again. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 22 points, but it was Thabo Sefolosha’s breakout game on both ends of the floor that turned last night’s game into a complete blowout.
After Tony Parker lit up Russell Westbrook for 34 points in a Game 2 rout, Scott Brooks made a critical adjustment of sticking Sefolosha on him while putting Westbrook and Daniel Green. The move was extremely effective, as Sefolosha held Parker to 16 points and four assists and turned six steals into offense, finishing with 19 points, which included four 3-pointers. The Thunder’s big three showed up to play once again, but Sefolosha’s breakout performance on both ends of the floor was exactly what OKC needed to be competitive with San Antonio and breathe life into this series. In addition to Sefolosha’s big night, the Thunder also got a big lift from Serge Ibaka, who finally knocked down open looks and asserted himself on the defensive end of the floor. Ibaka finished with 14 points and three blocks, but also clogged up the middle and contested shots in a way not seen in Games 1 and 2. In fact, everyone on the Thunder got involved defensively while putting up points. Kendrick Perkins had four points and three blocks; Nick Collison pitched in six points off the bench; Derek Fisher added five; and James Harden had 15 points and helped the Thunder build up a double digit lead in the first half after going on a tear in the second quarter.
But what was most revealing about how vital role players were in this victory for Oklahoma City was how mediocre Russell Westbrook played. Westbrook, who had shot nine more times than Kevin Durant in the series up to this point, finally allowed the NBA’s scoring leader more shots that him. So despite the fact that Westbrook only put up 10 points, it was his nine assists that helped the Thunder establish an offensive rhythm and get their supporting cast involved. When OKC plays like this and gets everyone involved (and when Westbrook isn’t jacking up so many shots), they are unbeatable. By picking up the defensive intensity and getting big performances out of their role players, they made the prolific Spurs look a lot more human than they’ve looked in the past month and a half. From San Antonio’s perspective, 21 turnovers is way too many. Those turnovers allowed the Thunder to get out and snag easy transition baskets. Stephen Jackson and Parker led the Spurs with 16 points each while Tim Duncan followed up with 11 points. Other than that and DeJuan Blair’s 10 points off the bench, no one reached double digits for San Antonio. Manu Ginobili only had eight, Kawhi Leonard had two and Boris Diaw only put up one as San Antonio’s depth completely disappeared. The Spurs finally looked human between the turnovers and shooting 39 percent from the floor, but it remains to be seen if this lackluster play will continue for a pivotal Game 4.
For the Thunder, Game 3 was a huge win and a great confidence booster, but their work isn’t done just yet. They built a double digit lead early and didn’t allow San Antonio any opportunities to come back, but Game 4 will be a clean slate and you can be guaranteed Gregg Popovich will have his team fired up. Oklahoma City took care of business by taking Game 3, but if they drop Game 4, they face elimination on the road. Oklahoma City needs great defense from Sefolosha on Parker again, they need role players to step up on offense and they need to control the boards. However, after a dismal start to the series for this young and talented Thunder team, it looks like there might be some light at the end of the tunnel after all.