Thunder trio ran at one-third of capacity

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City didn’t follow its recipe for success in the last two games of the Western Conference finals, yet the Thunder still managed to even the series.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden are supposed to be vital cogs in the Thunder’s Big Three, along with Kevin Durant. The trio combined for 4,452 points during the regular season, leading all NBA trios with an average of 68.4 points per game.

So when Durant started slow in Saturday’s Game 4, and Westbrook and Harden both clanked through difficult shooting nights, it would have seemed to spell disaster for the Thunder’s NBA title hopes.

Instead, the Thunder’s unheralded collection of role players came up with a monster collective effort that kept them afloat until Durant ignited their closing rush in a 109-103 triumph.

Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison combined to hit 22 of 25 shots, as the Spurs struggled to contain the lesser Oklahoma City players.

“You go into a game with a game plan and try to make other guys beat you,” Collison said, when asked to consider what the Spurs were trying to do in Saturday’s game. “When other guys are able to step up and make shots, it’s tough to defend against that. We’re just going to try to continue doing the same things.”

Particularly shocking was the game for Ibaka, who hit all 11 of his shots en route to a career-best 26 points.

Ibaka’s reputation had always been as a shot-blocking wizard whose shooting range barely extended outside the lane.

“All the (Oklahoma City) bigs really scored (Saturday),” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Obviously, you put most of your attention on the Big Three there and try to do a great job on them first. But their bigs came through (Saturday) and were just outstanding.”

Westbrook’s slump has peaked in the last two games of the series. After notching career-best averages of 23.6 points and 45.7 percent shooting from the field during the regular season, his numbers have dipped to 8.5 points and 28 percent shooting in the last two games.

But even with those struggles, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Westbrook has been a productive player in the victories.

“I’m happy with Russ the last two games,” Brooks said. “His numbers don’t stand down and say, ‘Wow, he had a major impact on the offensive end.’ But he did.”

His value has included other elements.

“Russ made timely passes. He set incredible screens. He chased down a couple of plays that probably only Russell could do in the NBA,” Brooks said. “He has a lot of skill and a lot of determination. But I thought the screens to get those shots open for Kevin were just as important as Kevin making them.”

That might have been true in Games 3 and 4. But the Thunder desperately need their Big Three to return to form in order to steal a game in San Antonio.

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