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Scott Howard-Cooper

Serge Ibaka had a game for the ages, hitting all 11 of his shots for a career-high 26 points in Game 4.
Evan Gole/NBAE/Getty Images

Ibaka's performance perfect for Thunder in Game 4

Posted Jun 3 2012 2:22AM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Serge Ibaka was surprised so many people were surprised. So he makes more baskets in the first half than Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden combined. So he goes for a career-high 26 points, never missing a shot, in the conference final with the season likely on the line. Is that something new?

Of course it is a surprise. The whole thing is. The All-Defense center who averaged 9.1 points a game in the regular season dropping 26 on the Spurs, or one less than the previous three games of the series combined. The Thunder evening the West final 2-2 because Thabo Sefolosha has the offensive game of his life and then about 48 hours later Ibaka has the offensive game of most anyone's life.

Ibaka did miss one time Saturday night -- he missed the league playoff record for most attempts without a miss, that is. If that is not a surprise, it's only because a better word might be shocking. Impossible to believe, even.

Two games in three nights of found money inside rollicking Chesapeake Energy Arena. That's how it would have to be for the Thunder to climb back from 0-2, a seemingly impossible task against an opponent on a 20-game win streak. It would have to be through some freak occurrence, because teams with as much poise as the Spurs, playing as well as the Spurs, and with as much depth as the Spurs simply do not hand over that kind of lead one step before the Finals.

Oklahoma City earned the tie that guarantees another game here on Wednesday after the teams meet again Monday in San Antonio. No trick mirrors were involved. No one could have seen it coming like this, though, with Sefolosha on Thursday tying his season high with 19 points and then Ibaka on Saturday hitting all 11 attempts, one short of the NBA postseason mark of 12 for 12 by Larry McNeill of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings on April 13, 1975.

Hello, freak occurrences.

"(Saturday) he was impressive," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "11 for 11 in Game 4 of the conference finals is not easy to do. I understand if he runs in transition and dunks or on drop-offs when we help (on another player on defense). That can happen. But he made five to six jumpers, and that's something we were willing to give up. But he was impressive today. He made every shot. He was very active as always on the defensive end, so he had an unbelievable game."

Said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich: "All the bigs scored tonight. Obviously you put your attention on the big three there (Durant, Westbrook and Harden) and try do a great job on them first, just naturally. But the bigs came through tonight and were outstanding. I didn't look at the whole (box score), but I think they were 22 for 25 or some crazy thing. If you did a shooting drill with nobody guarding you, I don't think you could do that."

Exactly 22 of 25: 11 of 11 by power forward Ibaka, seven of nine from center Kendrick Perkins, four of five by backup big man Nick Collison. Everyone went off. Durant in the fourth quarter for sure -- 18 of his 36 points to secure the 109-103 Thunder victory -- but KD turning flammable can be expected. The other part, not so much.

Some crazy thing is right.

"You go into a game with a game plan and try to make other guys beat you," Collison said when asked to put himself in the Spurs' shoes. "When other guys are able to step up and make shots, it's tough to defend against that. We're just going to try to continue doing the same things. We're just a much better team when we move the basketball."

There is that kind of emotional boost for the Thunder as well, as if being 2-2 isn't rocket fuel enough. Two games in a row with unexpectedly big scoring contributions from players known strictly for defense -- that's a team suddenly in a special rhythm, knowing it can win even with Westbrook struggling with his shot and Harden missing on Saturday, knowing how it can be someone else's turn Monday night in San Antonio.

"Maybe for you it's a surprise," Ibaka said. "For myself and my teammates it's not a surprise. I worked hard today. I work hard every day. For you it's a surprise, I understand."

For him, in other words, it's not a surprise. Like holding up the offense until Durant can ride in for the final gun is typical. Nothing about what transpired over the course of three nights at Chesapeake Energy is typical. Of course it's a surprise.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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