OKLAHOMA CITY — With three minutes left in Game 3, Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka had his face buried in a towel. He held it there for several moments, seemingly trying to hide the emotion coming out of him.
On an injured calf, Ibaka had just produced an inspiring performance that helped lead the Thunder to a series saving 106-97 victory over the San Antonio Spurs Sunday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“When you talk about a teammate, that’s everything you want your teammate to embody, is a guy who gives himself up for the team, gives his body up for the team,” Kevin Durant said of Ibaka. “No matter how this game would have went tonight, I gained so much more respect for Serge, giving up his body for the team.”
Ibaka, who missed the series’ first two games due to a calf strain, scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots. But it was his overall presence that motivated the entire squad.
It only took 38 seconds for Ibaka to make his first impact of the game. He scored the game’s first basket on a mid-range jumper. He then hit his next three shots.
“I think I did pretty well,” Ibaka said. “Not just me, but my teammates, too. We did a great job making (the Spurs) make some tough shots. I just tried to give my teammates some energy, help on offense and to make my presence in the paint.”
Establishing that presence set the tone defensively. Oklahoma City limited San Antonio to 39.6 percent shooting, while the Thunder hit 45.7 percent of their shots from the floor.
Russell Westbrook scored 26 points, and Durant added 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder, who trail the best-of-seven series 2-1. Game 4 will be played Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
“I was very disappointed that we didn’t come out with more of a foot-in-the-neck sort of attitude,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “They killed us on the boards, they beat us to 50/50 balls, and that’s very disappointing to me. That’s not the way you approach a game.”