The Oklahoma City Thunder ended the San Antonio Spurs’ 20-game win streak and handed them their first playoff loss with a 102-82 win Thursday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
On a night when the Thunders’ backs were against the wall, they enjoyed the majority of their contribution from the unlikeliest of stars: Thabo Sefolosha.
Sefolosha helped the Thunder climb back into the series on both the offensive and defensive ends by setting playoff career highs in points (19) and steals (six). He also had six rebounds and finished 4-10 from beyond the arc in over 36 minutes.
“We all know that Thabo (Sefolosha) is one of the best defenders in the game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the game. “We’ve had him on point guards before and he did a great job of staying active and pursuing.”
Brooks changed defensive strategies after coming away empty in the first two games in San Antonio. He started the game with Sefolosha guarding Tony Parker instead of Russell Westbrook.
“It wasn’t anything Russell (Westbrook) did,” Brooks said. “We just thought we needed to play better all around basketball and we did tonight on both ends.”
The Thunder started the game on an 8-0 run thanks to tough defense and poor shooting from the Spurs. San Antonio started the game 0-4 from the field and turned the ball over on four of their first eight possessions.
As bad as the Spurs started, they still were still able to tie the game 12-12 midway through the first and finished the opening period with a 24-22 lead.
Oklahoma City came out firing in the second period, led by NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. Harden scored nine of the Thunder’s first 18 points in the period, however, the Thunder’s suffocating defense was the main cause of concern for the Spurs.
The Thunder held San Antonio to 17 points on 6-17 shooting in the second period. The Spurs also turned the ball over six times and didn’t score a single transition basket.
Oklahoma City continued to give San Antonio problems in the third period. The Spurs again failed to score 20 points in the quarter and were held to 16-41 shooting from the field in the second half.
Sefolosha scored nine of his 19 points in the third and knocked down two three’s that ultimately sealed the game.
“He was phenomenal tonight,” Kevin Durant said after the game. “He got some easy points in transition and got hot shooting the three-ball. He stepped up for us tonight and it sparked us to a great win.”
Spurs coach Greg Popovich limited his starters’ time in the second half and didn’t allow four of his starters to step foot on the floor in the fourth quarter. Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson each finished with 16 points and Tim Duncan fished with 11.
Kevin Durant finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-17 shooting for the Thunder. Russell Westbrook didn’t have his best scoring night, but played efficiently with 10 points, nine assists and just two turnovers.
The Thunder still has work to do after cutting their series deficit to 2-1. They will look to even things up in Game 4 Saturday night in Oklahoma City before heading back to San Antonio for a pivotal Game 5.