OKLAHOMA CITY – The streak is over. The series may only be beginning.
Kevin Durant scored 22 points, Thabo Sefolosha set playoff career bests with 19 points and six steals, and the Oklahoma City Thunder snapped San Antonio’s 20-game winning streak by beating the Spurs 102-82 in Game 3 of the NBA’s Western Conference finals on Thursday night.
Oklahoma City closed its series deficit to 2-1 and will host Game 4 on Saturday night.
“We never thought these guys had an advantage over us even though we had lost a few,” Durant said. “It was just good that we took it to 2-1. We didn’t want to go down 0-3.”
Sefolosha threw a wrench in the Spurs’ well-oiled offense at the start, getting four steals in the first 3 minutes.
The Spurs ended up committing a postseason-worst 21 turnovers and scoring their least points all season.
San Antonio had been averaging 109.4 points during its month-and-a-half winning streak and had been held to double digits only twice.
“We just played a good basketball game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We played with a lot of force, we played with good energy, but we played defensive-minded basketball.
“That’s who we are. That’s how we win.”
Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson led the Spurs with 16 points apiece. Tim Duncan had 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting, taking 11 of San Antonio’s first 25 shots as the offense went through the All-Star center instead of Parker.
“They played like it was a closeout game, both offensively and defensively,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They were very active, physical, they moved the ball well on offense. They did all those things better than we did. They beat us good.”
The Spurs, who already set an NBA record for the longest winning streak carried over from the regular season into the playoffs, were trying to match the league mark for most wins to start the postseason. The Lakers won 11 straight to start the 1989 and 2001 playoffs, getting swept in the NBA finals the first time and winning it all the second.
The Spurs hadn’t lost since April 11 against the Lakers at home.
“We are a prideful team. It’s no fun being down 0-2. It’s no fun,” Brooks said. “But we weren’t looking at the game thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we have a chance to be down 0-3.’ We were looking at the game that we have a chance to be 1-2 after this game, and I give our guys a lot of credit. They believe in each other and they always play hard for each other.”
Parker and Duncan didn’t play in the final 15 minutes, and Popovich pulled the plug after a series of three straight turnovers allowed the deficit to reach 23 points early in the fourth quarter.
Sefolosha had a right-handed dunk off a lob pass from Russell Westbrook, who followed with his own two-handed jam on an alley-oop pass and Sefolosha followed with a reverse layup on another turnover-fueled fast-break chance to push the lead to 86-63 with 9:48 left.
The Thunder put together another 9-0 run coinciding with Manu Ginobili coming out of the game, and featuring Serge Ibaka sticking his tongue out after nailing a jumper from the top of the key. Brooks soon followed suit and pulled his front-line players with the game well in hand.
“You’re not going to beat this team by playing one-effort basketball,” Brooks said. “You’re going to have to have two, three, four, even five. And they make you do that because they pass the ball so well, they spread the floor so well.”
Popovich said the Thunder played harder and smarter than the Spurs.
“They did definitely play with a lot more energy, a lot more passion than us tonight,” said Parker, who committed five turnovers.
The Spurs wiped out a 24-point deficit in Game 3 against the Clippers in Los Angeles in the last round, but they weren’t recovering in this one.
San Antonio managed only 24 points in the paint after averaging 46 through the first two games of the series and 47.8 through the playoffs.
Oklahoma City already held a 28-8 scoring edge in the paint while taking a 54-41 halftime lead and it never got better for San Antonio, which couldn’t get any closer than 11 points in the second half.
“We wanted to bounce back after two losses like that. We had to play better and we did that tonight,” Sefolosha said. “We played with energy, we played with passion in front of our home crowd. They did a great job giving us a lift.”
The Thunder scored the game’s first eight points, feeding off Sefolosha’s steals, but San Antonio recovered in time to take the lead with more than 5 minutes left in the opening period.
Oklahoma City took the lead early in the second quarter and there was no looking back.