Tone Set in Second Quarter Leads Thunder to Game 3 Win
The first 4 minutes, 16 seconds of the second quarter not only showcased Thunder Basketball at its finest, it set the tone for a 32-point period and pumped new, emotional blood into the Western Conference Finals with a 102-82 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday in Game 3.
The Thunder trails the best-of-seven series, 2-1, but it will have an opportunity to even the series on its home court Saturday night in Game 4.
“We’ve done nothing but won our home game, and we have a tough one Saturday night,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said, later adding: "They played better than us the first two games. We played better than them (tonight). That's all that was."
Game 3 started off well for the Thunder, but slowly drifted into more of what happened in the first two games in San Antonio. The Thunder, which jumped out to a 8-0 lead on Thursday, trailed 24-22 after the first quarter and was behind in rebounds (13-10), assists (6-2) and free-throw attempts (6-for-7 for the Spurs; 2-for-2 for the Thunder).
The one plus: the Thunder had forced the Spurs into seven turnovers.
“I thought we played great defense from the start,” Brooks said. “Everybody was engaged. Everybody was in their stance and our hands were active.”
Added Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich: “That doesn’t help,” he said of the turnovers (his team would finished with 21). “That sort of characterized the beginning of the game and gave them a really good head start. … I think we recovered pretty poorly from that.”
But the two assists were the asterisk on the Thunder stat sheet.
It would change, quickly.
The Spurs would post their biggest lead of the night (five points, 27-22) on a 3-point shot by Manu Ginobili to open the second quarter, but the Thunder would answer with a 18-3 run that would include assists on each of the six field goals made during the 4:16 outburst that would follow.
“It (sharing the ball) was a point of emphasis to start the game,” said Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who had two of his game-high nine assists during the run. “I think everybody id a great job of making the extra pass. We moved the ball extremely well.”
The decisive run started with a Nick Collison jumper from a feed from Derek Fisher, pulling the Thunder within 27-24 with 11:13 remaining before halftime. The next five baskets for the Thunder included a Serge Ibaka dunk off a pass from Thabo Sefolosha, a Sefolosha 3-pointer set up by a pass from James Harden, a Harden layup from Ibaka, a Harden three from Westbrook and a Collison jumper set up by Westbrook.
When the run was complete, the Thunder led 40-30 with 7:06 left in the half and the 18,203 in Chesapeake Energy Arena were standing on their feet, roaring in approval.
“We just played harder. We played harder,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 22 points but was cheering wildly on the bench for the first 3:29 of the quarter. “We had to protect home court. That’s what we’re supposed to do. We just want to come out and play as hard as we can. Leave everything on the floor. I think that’s what we did. We played together on both ends.”
It wasn’t just a burst of sharing the ball and putting up points. It was Collison crashing the boards and securing key rebounds to keep momentum on the Thunder side; it was Ibaka coming up with one of a Thunder-franchise-record 14 steals; it was Harden getting to the free-throw line four times during the run – and making four free throws.
“They were excellent. They were great,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said of the Thunder. “They started out strong. I thought we kind of weathered that storm early on but they kept it on. The moved the ball well; defensively, they were really solid, they used their length and it really affected what we were doing.”
Said Brooks: “It’s important to play tough basketball. It’s what we’re about. It’s what we’re built on: toughness. … I’m proud of all of our guys. That’s what we do and what we have to continue to do.”