Besides the annual Super Bowl there are by my account two to four sporting events per year that will be so memorable that you can actually recall the place where you watched it. At least two of those events are saved for your favorite team, either because of a miraculous comeback or because you were at the game in person. That leaves just one to two spots left for any random sporting events throughout the calendar year to leave a sense of “wow I just watched something I’ll never forget”.
On Saturday night Kevin Durant had the type of performance that will be remembered for a long time, possibly forever if the Thunder go on to win a championship, but he needed some help from the rest of his teammates that aren’t named Russell Westbrook.
Early on it was evident that Kendrick Perkins had carried over the same intensity from game 3, even though he only scored four points in that game, he actually looked engaged. Maybe Scott Brooks gave him the “you have to get angry” speech that Patches O’ Hoolhan gave to Gordon in Dodgeball.
The more likely scenario is that Perkins let the comments from Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller fester inside him to a point that he wanted to reach into the TV, grab Kerr and say “You want to come out here and body me and see what happens!?” Kendrick had taken a beating from the media after the first two games in the series and for good reason; it looked like a hologram had taken his spot on the floor in those first two contests.
Perhaps that type of verbal ass kicking was exactly what he needed to once again become engaged. Game 4 was Perkins’ best game of the entire season, but he was the third best player on the floor in a white jersey on Saturday night.
The second best player on the floor award belongs to Serge Ibaka. He finished the game one made fg away from trying Larry “The Hawk” Mcneill’s playoff record for most shots taken without a miss (the hawk went 12-for-12 in a ’75 playoff win over the Bulls, Ibaka went 11-for-11). He finished with a 26/5/3 block line. His block on Dejaun Blair gave me an opportunity to yell out holy shit at my local bar (I was the only person there who was actually watching the game intently; everyone else was focused on game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Yes I live in the only area where Devils fans reside). It was the type of defensive play that makes NBA scouts wonder if the Thunder should keep Harden or Ibaka (future column warning!).
Side rant: I drafted Ibaka in the third round of my fantasy basketball league and was immediately bashed for taking him that early. I justified it by saying he’s going to at least get me blocks and has a high upside. Little did I know that he would single handily win me the blocks category almost every week, but I learned something about his spot in the Thunder’s rotation while having him on my team.
On some nights he filled up the box score like no other player in the league can; a 18/20/4 blk night against the Suns in early March; a 14/15/11 blk triple double against the Nuggets in February, that game featured an overtime period; a 18/14/7 blk line in the late season game against the Lakers that went in to double overtime. In those games Ibaka played 40:02, 40:41, and 46:12 minutes respectfully. His per game averages this season? 9.1 pts/7.5 reb/3.7 blk/ in 27:06 minutes per game.
Yes you read that correctly.
Every time that Ibaka turned out a good performance, he wasn’t rewarded with more consistent playing time, instead he was left for dead on the bench watching Kevin Durant win another scoring title, watching Russell Westbrook morph into a second team All-NBA guard, watching his bench mate James Harden win a sixth man of the year award. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense during the season, sure there were times that the benching of I-Blocka was justified, but I would say 87% of the time it didn’t make sense.
Brooks’ became fascinated with playing a small ball lineup that featured Durant at the 4, Westbrook and Harden, either Thabo Sefalosha or Daequan Cook and Kendrick Perkins at the 5. Ibaka would play at the 5 sometimes in this lineup, but I think Scott Brooks fell in love a little bit too much with Perkins’ toughness and forgot about the fact that he can be an offensive liability even 5 feet in front of the basket and a defensive liability in the post game.
The mistake of leaving Ibaka on the bench in a crucial situation was finally brought into the national spotlight after game 1 of the WCF. Brooks didn’t exactly take a beating from the media for not playing Ibaka down the stretch, but he was made aware that it would have been a good idea to play his most underused talent instead of having a Perkins’ hologram let every possible Spurs player by en route to the basket.
In the last three games Ibaka has played 38:48, 30:21, and 40:44 minutes respectfully. It’s just the third time this season that he’s played 30+ minutes in three consecutive games. His performance in game 4 was so good that if it wasn’t for what Durant did (we’re getting to him shortly don’t worry) the national spot light would have been on Ibaka for turning this series into a best out of three slobberknocker.
His performance was so good that it made Baron Davis forget that Serge averaged less than 30 minutes per game this season (Davis had control of the NBA twitter feed for the night and stated that Ibaka is a lock for the All-Star team next season. Someone was sipping on some serious kool-aid last night).
The Perkins and Ibaka show carried Oklahoma City to a 12 point lead at halftime. Half way through the third quarter the lead increased to 15, but the Spurs would embark on an 18-7 run that cut the OKC lead down to 4 going into the fourth quarter.
In the first half Durant took just four shots, made two of them, and had a Tiago Splitter like line: 8/2/4. I kept thinking to myself at some point Durant is going to take this game over, it’s setting up perfectly. Westbrook is giving them nothing and when he doesn’t hit his early jumpers he more often than not looks like a lost soul; ditto for Harden who has become the Jekell and Hyde player of this series.
Here was the sorta second half diary that I made while watching game 4. I’ll start it from when Durant made his first three pointer with 3:15 left in the third quarter:
3:15: At some point Durant was going to make a 3.
1:44: Durant has taken less shots (9) than I did in a pickup game earlier in the week, maybe I need to stop chucking the ball. Thunder up 5.
:48: Ginobli makes it a 2 point game, 4th quarter for the ages coming up and I’m the only person at the bar who’s into it.
:35: Durant takes his 10th shot.
:20: Oh my god what a block by Ibaka, I know it was on Blair, but still.
:11: Blair takes a charge! Am I seriously the only person here who is this excited for the fourth quarter!?
12:00: Harden 1-7; Westbrook 2-10, Thunder up 3
11:30: Ibaka again!
9:51: Tony Parker 5-12, 12/4, really quiet tonight.
9:34: Harden with a three, he’s made more shots less than 3 minutes into the qtr than he has all game. If the Thunder hold on they’re going to win the series, Durant AND Westbrook won’t have a repeat of this game. (Little did I know that Durant was going to be on fire in just a few minutes.) Ibaka with 24.
7:50: Ibaka now 11-for-11, 26/5; I’ve typed his name so many times, looks like Brooks got the memo.
5:05: the Hyde version of Harden misses a wide open three that has to be made in that spot.
4:47: Ibaka with a fantastic pass falling out of bounds to find Durant who drives the lane, gets hit makes the shot and goes to the line for a three point play.
4:24: Khawi Leonard is going to be a fantastic player for the Spurs. What a draft day move trading George Hill for him.
3:52: Uh Oh Durant’s awake…
2:48: KD 6/7, 14 pts in the qtr. The “others” carried the Thunder in the first half and gave Durant the ability to close the game. Is there a more perfect fit for a player and franchise in the league?
1:48: Leonard with back to back 3’s, Spurs aren’t going away…
1:30: Harden answers with a 3
:35: Sefalosha sniffs out the inbounds pass, oh do we have a series now.
After the game Craig Sager informs Durant that Ibaka was a perfect 11-for-11, he seems stunned at this news.
No Kevin you stunned us all with your 16 point outburst in the fourth period. God I can’t wait for Monday night.
Follow me on twitter @scottdargis.