By Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times –
Merely a handful of days ago, pundits and fans eagerly debated whether the San Antonio Spurs would go undefeated in the playoffs.
Their offense was averaging 104 points, their defense was sublime and they looked deeper than any playoff team in recent memory.
Then the Oklahoma City Thunder finally arrived two games into the Western Conference finals and the Spurs were left to contemplate the depths of their damaged psyches.
Stephen Jackson had a suggestion, if not an admonition for his Spurs teammates.
“If you’re scared, go to church,” he said after San Antonio lost Game 4, 109-103, and their series lead.
Amen to that.
The Spurs dragged themselves back home for Game 5, which will be Monday at AT&T Center, where they went 28-5 in the regular season and 6-0 so far in the playoffs.
They might want to start guarding power forward Serge Ibaka, who became only the third person in playoff history to shoot 100 percent with at least 11 attempts. Normally known for shot blocking instead of shot making, Ibaka found himself alone atop the key over and over.
“You get out there and shoot 11 wide-open shots, you’d probably hit them too,” Jackson said. “I mean, we were giving those to him.”
Ibaka finished with 26 points and was one made shot from tying the playoff record for accuracy held by Larry McNeill, who was 12 for 12 for Kansas City in a 1974 game against Chicago.
Ibaka wasn’t the only Thunder post player to strike aplenty. Center Kendrick Perkins made seven of nine shots and backup big man Nick Collison made four of five.
“I think they were 22 for 25 or some crazy thing,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the Thunder big men. “If you did a shooting drill with nobody guarding you, I don’t think you could do that.”
It only looked as if nobody was guarding Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter of Game 4. He made seven of nine shots and scored 16 consecutive points for the Thunder.
He took only four shots in the first half, making two, and cruised efficiently through the third quarter before taking flight in the fourth and finishing with 36 points.
“He wasn’t second in MVP votes for nothing,” Spurs guard Gary Neal said.
The Spurs tried everything, even muscling Durant with the shorter but feisty Jackson. It didn’t work. Jackson fouled out.
“Everybody since I’ve been in the league has been trying to go physical with me, bump me and push me, but I like it,” Durant insisted. “I’m a skinny guy, but I like it.”
The Spurs would be a little happier if Tony Parker regained his touch from the first two games this series, when he totaled 52 points on 61 percent shooting. He was quiet in both games in Oklahoma City, drifting down to earth with 12 points in Game 4 on five-for-15 shooting.
It might also help the Spurs if Manu Ginobili checked back into the series after two forgettable games. He had six turnovers and six fouls in Game 4.
Not that the Thunder complained.
“It’s a lot easier going to San Antonio 2-2 instead of being 1-3,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said.