Serge Ibaka's heroics complemented by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook

On a night that Ibaka was the headliner, the Thunder wouldn’t have defeated the Spurs 106-97 and breathed life back into its playoff hopes without its superstars.
by Jenni Carlson Published: May 25, 2014


photo - Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) celebrates with Russell Westbrook (0) and Kevin Durant (35) during Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals in the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Sunday, May 25, 2014. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) celebrates with Russell Westbrook (0) and Kevin Durant (35) during Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals in the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Sunday, May 25, 2014. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

“He was locked in on whoever he was guarding, and he was focused on that,” Westbrook said of Durant. “He stayed aggressive all night for us.”

Durant said: “I loved Russ’s intensity defensively and wreaking havoc with his athleticism and strength. He played with such poise and resiliency after struggling to shoot the basketball early.

“He hit some huge shots for us and attacked all night but made the right basketball play.”

Neither Westbrook nor Durant shot a great percentage from the floor — they actually mirrored each other with 8-for-19 performances — but both were in attack mode. They got to the free-throw line eight times each and knocked down every freebie that they shot.

When they are attacking, the Spurs are in trouble. Who does San Antonio have to stay in front of both of those guys for the entire game? Sure, the Spurs will get stops and force misses every now and then, but when Durant and Westbrook go to the hole, good things happen.

That has to continue moving forward.

But Sunday night was a stellar start. After going a combined 19 for 40 in Game 1, then struggling to score only 30 points between the two of them in Game 2, Durant and Westbrook knew that their team needed more.

“Just their ability to continue to lead us,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “What they do on the practice floor, in the locker room and huddles is growing day by day, year by year.

“They have to continue to empower and make their teammates better. That’s what the great ones do. I thought they did a great job of that tonight.”

Neither Durant nor Westbrook was the star of the game, but Ibaka’s return wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without them.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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