Only a year removed from the franchise’s first playoff appearance, the Oklahoma City Thunder performed like seasoned champions April 23.
The Thunder took a commanding 3-0 series lead in their best-of-seven matchup with the Denver Nuggets with an impressive 97-94 road win at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Maryland native and Oklahoma City superstar forward Kevin Durant led all scorers with 26 points, but it was a streaking Serge Ibaka layup that iced the game for the visiting Thunder.
After Denver guard J.R. Smith swished a corner three-pointer in the closing seconds to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 95-94, Ibaka streaked down the court for a easy, wide-open layup to push the Thunder’s lead to three points. Smith then hoisted up a contested three-point attempt to tie the game, but his desperation shot fell short–and with it, perhaps, the Nuggets’ chances of winning the series.
“To beat this team four straight times in a playoff is not likely,” Denver guard Aaron Afflalo told reporters after the game. “But to beat them one time is, and we’ll go from that point.”
The Thunder have leaned on Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook through the first two games of the series, but Ibaka’s 22 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks, a career playoff high, came just in time for the young Thunder, who are aiming for the franchise’s first playoff series win since moving from Seattle in 2007.
“He was the difference maker,” Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins said of Ibaka’s performance. “He knocked down his shot when he needed to, he attacked the glass, he blocked shots, he changed the game. He was the best player on the court besides K.D. and Russell.”
The series continues with game four scheduled for Monday, April 25 in Denver.