Serge Ibaka rode into Chesapeake Energy Arena and had his Willis Reed moment.
Ibaka, presumed out for the season with a calf injury, made his miraculous return when the Thunder needed him most.
Oklahoma City fed off his energy and the highly-charged crowd to edge their way back into the series, halving the Spurs’ 2-0 lead.
Ibaka missed just one of his seven shots, making four of four in the first quarter to go with 7 rebounds and 4 blocks as he was a force of nature San Antonio had no answer for.
OKC’s interior defense has been desperately poor since losing Ibaka, allowing the Spurs to score 120 points in the paint over the first two games of the series. Ibaka’s return allowed the Thunder to deploy a true shot-blocking threat that forced San Antonio’s offense to shoot from further out.
His biggest contribution, however, came on the offensive end. Ibaka scored 15 points, taking the pressure off Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The duo were much improved on their inefficient start to this series, both shooting 8-19 and combining for 51 points and 18 rebounds.
Tim Duncan scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds for San Antonio, while Manu Ginobilli got off to a hot start. Ginobilli scored 20 points in the first half, including five threes, but would add just 3 more points in the second half. Tony Parker struggled, shooting just 4-13.
With Ibaka on the floor, the defensive identity of Oklahoma City changes drastically. They no longer have to worry about sending a second defender to help Tim Duncan’s man, a development which led to the Spurs shooting just 40 percent after making more than half of their shots in the first two games.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Russell Westbrook: 26 points, 8-19 FGS, 8 rebounds, 7 assists
Kevin Durant: 25 points, 8-19 FGS, 10 rebounds, 8-8 FTS
Serge Ibaka: 15 points, 6-7 FGS, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks
San Antonio Spurs:
Manu Ginobilli: 23 points, 8-13 FGS, 4 assists
Tim Duncan: 16 points, 7-17 FGS, 8 rebounds
Tony Parker: 9 points, 4-13 FGS, 4 assists
Game 4 @OKC: Tuesday, May 27th. Tip: 9pm ET