OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — So far, so good for Serge Ibaka’s comeback.
The Thunder forward said Monday that his strained left calf is feeling fine, and he expects to be able to play Tuesday in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
Ibaka came back from what was thought to be a season-ending injury to play 30 minutes in Game 3 against San Antonio. He had 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks to help Oklahoma City beat the Spurs 106-97 Sunday night and trim their deficit in the series to 2-1.
Ibaka said he felt no worse on Monday than the night before. He said it was a struggle during the game, but he stayed loose and was able to deal with the pain.
“It was kind of hard a little bit with my feet,” he said. “I was using more my right foot than left foot. I could not do too much last night. After we saw the video, I felt like I was slow.”
If that was Ibaka’s version of not doing much, San Antonio might have a problem. The Spurs won the first two games by a combined 52 points, but with Ibaka, Oklahoma City dominated on Sunday and led by 20 with just over three minutes to go.
“I love what he did,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I love the determination that he played with. That’s something that he’s done all along. That was a great, great game by him. He impacted the game both ends of the floor.”
Ibaka isn’t worried about re-injuring the calf or making it worse. His single concern is being on the floor for his team.
“When we sign here in the NBA, we sign on everything, man,” he said. “At the end of the day, no matter what happened last night ... I signed for this.”
The Spurs said they have more problems than Ibaka. They said to win Tuesday, they need to improve their shooting, rebounding and penetration.
“We just need to play better, shoot the ball better,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. “Just continue to attack and be more aggressive and try to get to the basket, get to the free throw line, just get them on their heels a little bit. I think we got on our heels too much, and the result was what it was.”
The Spurs also need to keep Oklahoma City off the free-throw line. The Thunder outscored the Spurs 26-15 from the line on Sunday as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant both went 8-for-8. Westbrook and Durant had combined for just 17 free-throw attempts in the first two games combined.
“The disparity in free throws really shows a sign of aggressiveness,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s about the game. It’s about how you play.”
The Thunder made several key changes for Game 3 that did not involve Ibaka. Backup point guard Reggie Jackson started and scored 15 points, adding another scoring threat to take pressure off Durant and Westbrook. Steven Adams, a rookie center, had seven points, nine rebounds and four blocks in 30 minutes. Guard Thabo Sefolosha and forward Nick Collison, who started the first two games of the series, didn’t play at all.
Brooks, who rarely makes lineup changes, wasn’t sure why this particular set of decisions worked so well. He said more adjustments might be forthcoming.
“I have confidence in the different styles that we can play, big or small, so whoever we play, you’ve got to play with five guys, and whoever we decide, I have confidence, the team has confidence,” he said.
Oklahoma City outrebounded the Spurs 52-36 on Sunday after getting outrebounded by three in Game 1 and 15 in Game 2.
Sunday, for the first time in the series, San Antonio’s offense sputtered. San Antonio shot 40 percent from the field after shooting at least 50 percent in Games 1 and 2. Ginobili scored 23 points on Sunday and Duncan scored 16 points, but no other Spurs scored more than 10.
Tony Parker struggled with Westbrook’s and Jackson’s improved defense. Parker made just 4 of 13 shots and had nine points, four assists and four turnovers.
“I take a lot of responsibility,” Parker said. “That’s my job on this team, to get everything going. That’s why I took it hard last night, because I felt like I didn’t play well.”