The Oklahoma City Thunder reignited the NBA Western Conference finals with a 102-82 home victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, reducing their deficit in the best-of-seven series to 2-1 and ending the visitors’ 20-game winning streak.
San Antonio, which won the first two games on home court, was unable to contain a fired-up Oklahoma City side as they suffered their first loss in 50 days.
The defeat leaves the Spurs one short of the Lakers’ record of 11 straight post-season wins but more importantly it raises the prospect of a series that could go down to the wire.
For the first two games it looked as if San Antonio, built around experience and three championship wins in the 2000’s, were in firm control.
Thursday’s response from the Thunder was a reminder that the talented young team, who lost out to Dallas at this stage last year, are a formidable force on home court.
“I think they played smarter than we did and harder than we did,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
Kevin Durant top scored for the Thunder with 22 points but it was a team effort, particularly on defense, that paved the way to victory as the Spurs’ offensive threat of Tony Parker (16 points) and Tim Duncan (11 points) were neutralised.
Durant was one of five Thunders players to make double figures, including Russell Westbrook whose ten points were accompanied by some intelligent controlling play throughout.
The Thunder’s Swiss forward Thabo Sefolosha had an outstanding game guarding Parker and finished with 19 points to go with his six steals, including a tone-setting four steals in the opening three minutes.
“He’s been a great defender for us all season and he was a huge help tonight,” said Westbrook.
Oklahoma City forced 21 turnovers while giving up just eight and they imposed themselves on the game from the outset taking an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes, roared on by a noisy and passionate home crowd.
The Thunder had established a 54-41 lead by halftime with Durant making 16 points while the Spurs offense was restricted to 40 percent shooting in the opening two quarters.
The Thunder took an 18 point lead into the fourth quarter and Popovich opted to keep Parker and Duncan on the sidelines for the final 15 minutes, his thoughts already moving to Game Four.
Parker had shot just 6-12 as Sefolosha smothered him and the Thunder took advantage of their turnovers with 18 fast break points.
“I thought that we played great defense from the start, defensively that was as well as you can play against the best team in basketball,” said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks.
Parker said the Spurs would now have to study video of the game to try and work out how to overcome the Thunder in Saturday’s Game Four.
“They played with a lot of energy, more passion than us tonight and deserved the win -- they played better, we will have to do a lot better if we are going to win here.”