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Durant powers Thunder past Spurs, tying West finals 2-2

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Associated Press
6/3/2012 12:16:08 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- When Lil Wayne turned down Kevin Durant's invitation to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, he missed quite a show by the three-time scoring champion.

Durant scored 18 of his 36 points in a scintillating final 7 minutes, Serge Ibaka added a career-high 26 points and the Thunder evened the series at two games apiece by beating the San Antonio Spurs 109-103 Saturday night.

After seeing his team's 15-point lead dwindle to four, Durant took over midway through the fourth quarter by scoring all 16 of the Thunder's points during a span of just over 5 minutes to keep the Spurs at bay.

"I didn't tell myself that I need to go score because what we were doing was working," Durant said.

"We were passing the ball and guys were making shots. ... I just wanted to stick with what we were doing, but it started to open up for me and I could see some lanes that gave me some opportunities to make some shots."

With All-Star teammate Russell Westbrook limited to seven points, Durant did almost all of the damage late to send the series back to San Antonio all square for Game 5 on Monday night.

Durant, who finished behind only LeBron James in MVP voting, hit three straight jumpers, the last one coming after he bumped into Tony Parker in the lane to draw a foul and set up a three-point play. Then he attacked the rim for his next three baskets, getting to the line again when he was fouled on a layup off of James Harden's alley-oop.

Durant hit another jumper after coming off a Westbrook screen for the last basket in his personal run -- and the Spurs were still within striking distance. Rookie Kawhi Leonard bracketed a pair of 3-pointers around that Durant jumper, and the Spurs were only down 102-96 with 1:24 left.

The Spurs succeeded in getting the ball out of Durant's hands on the next possession, only for him to provide the assist on Harden's 3-pointer from the left wing that bumped the lead to nine.

"When a player that talented gets hot, it's really hard to contain," San Antonio's Manu Ginobili said. "We tried different things and they didn't work.

"He scored a bunch in a short period of time. When we tried to blitz or really help, he kicked it and they made big shots."

Durant hit two free throws in the final minute to help close it out.

"We tried to do a couple of different things but his play was better than anything we did defensively, that's for sure," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He finished it off in fine fashion."

Before the game, Durant said he still hoped to convince Lil Wayne to come see a game in Oklahoma City after the rapper created a stir before Game 3 by tweeting he was denied access and followed it up by saying he felt "unwanted" at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

With another big closing effort, Durant provided another reason to catch the Thunder in the playoffs.

"I just want to be calm and composed and poised in those situations and make the right basketball play," Durant said. "I just try to calm down and go with my instincts."

Oklahoma City is trying to become the 15th team in NBA history to overcome an 0-2 deficit in a seven-game series, and the eighth to do it since 2004. The Thunder avoided an even trickier task by winning.

Only eight teams have ever overcome a 3-1 hole, and only two had done it while needing two wins on the road -- the 1995 Rockets and 1968 Celtics.

"We've just got to go down there with the mindset that we're going to play hard every possession, play together like we've played in these last two games and we'll see what happens," Durant said.

"We've just got to keep believing, man, and we'll be fine."

Tim Duncan had 21 points for San Antonio, which had won 20 in a row before losing Game 3. Leonard added 17 points and nine rebounds.

The Spurs wiped away most of a 15-point deficit with a run that coincided with Popovich turning to DeJuan Blair, who's had some notoriously big games against the Thunder but had occupied a spot on the bench for most of the playoffs after starting 62 of the 66 regular-season games.

Blair sprung free for a layup early in an 18-5 comeback, and Ginobili's 3-pointer from the top of the key trimmed Oklahoma City's lead to 73-71 with 1:16 to go in the third quarter.

The Spurs were within four after Duncan's left-handed runner with 6:55 left in the game. That's when Thunder coach Scott Brooks called a timeout, and Durant came out of it firing away. He made seven of his last eight shots and also finished with eight assists and six rebounds.

"It was hard because were on a run, we were feeling good about ourselves and we just couldn't make a stop," Ginobili said.

Ibaka made all 11 of his shots -- and all four of his free throws -- to lead a strong performance from Oklahoma City's frontcourt while Durant's usual running mates, Westbrook and Harden, both struggled.

Ibaka, starting centre Kendrick Perkins and reserve Nick Collison combined to go 22 for 25 from the field for 49 points. Westbrook missed eight of his 10 shots and Harden was limited to eight points.

The Thunder shot 56 per cent and outrebounded San Antonio 41-31.

Oklahoma City pulled ahead to stay with a 12-3 run early in the second quarter with Durant and Westbrook both taking a break. Westbrook nailed a 3-pointer from the left side soon after returning to provide the Thunder's first double-digit lead at 43-33 with 4:44 to go before halftime.

NOTES: After committing a post-season-worst 21 turnovers in Game 3, San Antonio had 10 that led to 11 Oklahoma City points. ... Ryan Seacrest sat in the front row near midcourt.

Kevin Durant (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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