After dropping the first two games in their Western Conference match-up, the Oklahoma City Thunder responded with a 20-point defeat of the San Antonio Spurs. Game three became a must-win for OKC, which was evident in the play of the youthfully talented franchise. The Thunder struggled with their lineup adjustments versus the methodical Spurs, which led to the 0-2 series deficit. Game three proved why Scott Brooks was a former NBA Coach of the Year, as his team responded to everything that San Antonio threw at him.
The streaking Spurs took a 24-22 lead into the second quarter, but this would be the last time they would find themselves in the driver’s seat. OKC took the first period as a wake-up call and completely throttled the top team in the West. The Thunder responded with a 32-17 second quarter performance and never looked back. Kevin Durant led the scoring charge with 22-points, while defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha contributed 19 points and 6 steals. James Harden chipped in with 15 points, and seeing as how Russell Westbrook struggled with his shot, he was able to contribute in every other category. The All-Star point guard added 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks to go with his 10 points.
The win for OKC proved that they could not only beat the seemingly unbeatable Spurs, but do so convincingly. While it’s widely expected that Gregg Poppovich will make adjustments for Game four, the defensive tenacity displayed by the Thunder will surely carry over into Saturday’s contest at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The exact same intensity that we saw from the rising franchise in game three of the Western Conference Finals is similar to what we’ve seen from their Eastern Conference rival Miami Heat, since they fell behind Indiana 2-1 in the Semi-final round. The Heat hasn’t lost a game since then and has found themselves in the driver’s seat of the ECF match-up against the Boston Celtics.
Miami has taken a 2-0 lead in their series after pulling off an OT victory in game two, despite a brilliant performance by Rajon Rondo. The Celtic point guard played all 53 minutes of the contest and notched 44 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds and 3 steals. The All-Star guard hadn’t been looking to take many jump-shots and was constantly challenged by the Heat throughout game one. Rondo answered the call as he hit 16-of-24 shots from the field and 10-of-12 from the free throw line. Although the record setting performance was good enough to keep the Celtics in the game, the usual impact from Miami’s superstars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James was too much to handle. The Heat’s own Mario Chalmers also answered the offensive challenge that was presented to him by Boston, as he added 22 points and 6 assists of his own.
With the series is shifting to Boston for today’s third installment of the Eastern Conference Finals, the pressure will be on the fourth seeded Celtics to secure a victory. Doc Rivers will undoubtedly have his team ready to go, as they look to slow down a team that looks destined to reach the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year.
Steve Rivers has contributed to The Source, ESPN Rise and a host of other online publications. Follow him on Twitter: @TheKidSkoob.