Filed underNBA Playoffs
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Once Kevin Durant got going, the San Antonio Spurs couldn’t find a way to slow him down.
Durant scored 18 of his 36 points in a scintillating final 7 minutes, Serge Ibaka added a career-high 26 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder evened the Western Conference finals at two games apiece by beating San Antonio 109-103 Saturday night.
After seeing his team’s 15-point lead dwindle to four, Durant took over midway through the fourth quarter by scoring all 16 of the Thunder’s points during a span of just over 5 minutes to keep the Spurs at bay.
“We tried to do a couple of different things but his play was better than anything we did defensively, that’s for sure,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He finished it off in fine fashion.”
With All-Star teammate Russell Westbrook limited to seven points, Durant did almost all of the damage late to send the series back to San Antonio all square for Game 5 on Monday night.
Durant, who finished behind only LeBron James in MVP voting, hit three straight jumpers, the last one coming after he bumped into Tony Parker in the lane to draw a foul and set up a three-point play. Then he attacked the rim for his next three baskets, getting to the line again when he was fouled on a layup off of James Harden’s alley-oop.
“He just got going. Once a player of that much talent starts scoring, it’s hard to stop them,” said Stephen Jackson, who was repeatedly bumped off by screens while trying to stick with Durant during his hot stretch.
“He got into a nice rhythm. I was able to stop him one time, but they got the lob and the and-one. He was just rolling. It was kind of too late to stop him.”
Durant hit another jumper after coming off a Westbrook screen for the last basket in his personal run — and the Spurs were still within striking distance. Rookie Kawhi Leonard bracketed a pair of 3-pointers around that Durant jumper, and the Spurs were only down 102-96 with 1:24 left.
The Spurs succeeded in getting the ball out of Durant’s hands on the next possession, only for him to provide the assist on Harden’s 3-pointer from the left wing that bumped the lead to nine.
Durant hit two free throws in the final minute to help close it out.
“I didn’t tell myself that I need to go score because what we were doing was working,” Durant said.
“We were passing the ball and guys were making shots. … I just wanted to stick with what we were doing, but it started to open up for me and I could see some lanes that gave me some opportunities to make some shots.”
Oklahoma City is trying to become the 15th team in NBA history to overcome an 0-2 deficit in a seven-game series, and the eighth to do it since 2004. The Thunder avoided an even trickier task by winning.
Only eight teams have ever overcome a 3-1 hole, and only two had done it while needing two wins on the road — the 1995 Rockets and 1968 Celtics.
Game 5 is Monday night in San Antonio.
“They did what they had to do. They protected their home court here,” said Tim Duncan, who led San Antonio with 21 points. “We’re going to try to go home and do exactly the same.”
Leonard added 17 points and nine rebounds for San Antonio, which had won 20 in a row before losing Game 3.
The Spurs wiped away most of a 15-point deficit with a run that coincided with Popovich turning to DeJuan Blair, who’s had some notoriously big games against the Thunder but had occupied a spot on the bench for most of the playoffs after starting 62 of the 66 regular-season games.
Blair sprung free for a layup early in an 18-5 comeback, and Manu Ginobili’s 3-pointer from the top of the key trimmed Oklahoma City’s lead to 73-71 with 1:16 to go in the third quarter.
The Spurs were within four after Duncan’s left-handed runner with 6:55 left in the game. That’s when Thunder coach Scott Brooks called a timeout, and Durant came out of it firing away. He made seven of his last eight shots and also finished with eight assists and six rebounds.
“It was hard because were on a run, we were feeling good about ourselves and we just couldn’t make a stop,” Ginobili said.
Ibaka made all 11 of his shots — and all four of his free throws — to lead a strong performance from Oklahoma City’s frontcourt while Durant’s usual running mates, Westbrook and Harden, both struggled.
Ibaka, starting center Kendrick Perkins and reserve Nick Collison combined to go 22 for 25 from the field for 49 points. Westbrook missed eight of his 10 shots and Harden was limited to eight points.
The Thunder shot 56 percent and outrebounded San Antonio 41-31.
Oklahoma City pulled ahead to stay with a 12-3 run early in the second quarter with Durant and Westbrook both taking a break. Westbrook nailed a 3-pointer from the left side soon after returning to provide the Thunder’s first double-digit lead at 43-33 with 4:44 to go before halftime.
NOTES: After committing a postseason-worst 21 turnovers in Game 3, San Antonio had 10 that led to 11 Oklahoma City points. … Ryan Seacrest sat in the front row near midcourt.
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