Durant May Be The Best Closer In The NBA
Kevin Durant scored 18 points in the final seven minutes, Serge Ibaka chipped in a career-high 26 and the Oklahoma City Thunder evened the Western Conference Finals after their 109-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Spurs found themselves with a 15-point deficit in the third quarter, but managed to climb to within four with 6:54 left before Durant went into closer mode.
The NBA scoring champion scored 18 of the Thunder’s final 23 points and scored 16 straight in a span of five minutes to wipe away San Antonio’s chances of returning home with a 3-1 series lead.
“Going into this game, we knew how important it was,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the game. “It was terrific that Kevin (Durant) did a great job of closing it out. Kevin’s about winning. He’s not about scoring 16 in a row. He’s about making the right plays and he’s happy with that. He’s a team player and he’s only going to get better.”
“I’d like that,” Durant responded when asked if he feels like he’s the team’s closer. “I just want to be calm and composed in those situations. There’s times when I need to pass to my teammates and there’s times when I need to score. I just want to try to take over and make good basketball plays. I want to be clutch defensively as well.”
Durant and Russell Westbrook struggled out of the gate for Oklahoma City, but nine first quarter points from Kendrick Perkins gave the Thunder the boost they needed to keep up with Spurs early. Perkins finished the game with a team-high nine rebounds as well.
San Antonio scored 26 points in the first quarter with seven players combining to shoot 52.4% from the field. Kawahi Leonard, who has played gritty defense on Durant all series, started the game with five points while Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili scored four apiece.
Serge Ibaka took over in the second quarter helping Oklahoma City jump out to a 12-point lead before halftime.
Ibaka scored 12 of his 26 points in the second quarter while six other Thunder players combined for 17. Oklahoma City entered halftime with a 55-43 advantage and their top two scorers had just 12 points.
San Antonio started to crawl back into the game during the third quarter. Oklahoma City watched a 15-point lead wilt to four before the final period.
Once again, a bevy of scorers inched San Antonio back within striking distance. Duncan and Boris Diaw combined for 10 points in the third quarter while Ginobili poured in seven.
The Spurs did all they could in the first part of the fourth quarter. They played the Thunder dead even until the 6:33-mark. Leanord and Duncan combined for 17 points down the stretch, but it wasn’t enough. Durant’s fourth quarter surge willed Oklahoma City to victory and evened the series at two games apiece.
Oklahoma City’s front-line, Ibaka (26), Perkins (15) and Nick Collison (8), combined for 49 points while Durant (36), Harden (11) and Westbrook (7) combined for 54.
“Tonight our bigs did a good job of defending and scoring,” Brooks said. “Like Kevin, Russell (Westbrook) and James (Harden) will do, they were finding open shots for Serge (Ibaka) and open drop passes for Perk. That’s what we’ve been doing and I give our guys a lot of credit for executing it tonight.”
The series now transitions to a best-of-five contest beginning in San Antonio Monday. Game 6 will be played in Oklahoma City Wednesday and a deciding Game 7, if necessary, will swing back to San Antonio Friday.