Announcers and journalists overuse the phrase “game of a lifetime” when reviewing athletic performances. It can only truly apply to players who reach heights that they will never again attain.
Tonight, Serge Ibaka played the game of a lifetime.
His jump shot, overrated as a weapon by announcers who don’t see him often, looked flawless, piercing the net every time he launched it. His defense, often overhyped, went beyond shot-blocking to completely disrupt the San Antonio Spurs’ precise offense.
Ibaka’s Oklahoma City Thunder won Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, and now stand tied with the Spurs at 2-2 heading into Monday’s pivotal Game 5. Neither team has lost at home.
By definition, Ibaka’s game of a lifetime is impossible to replicate. It was enough to help the Thunder to a win tonight, but he’ll never shoot 11-11 (one short of the playoff record for made field goals without a miss) again.
Some of his teammates might be able to summon repeat performances of their Game 4 efforts, though. Here they are, in descending order of likelihood.
Game of A Night: James Harden – 11 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists
Harden gets a mention here not for his ordinary, replicable stat line, but for the number of times he kicked out his legs on jump shots to attempt to draw contact from unsuspecting defenders.
The law of averages suggests that eventually he’ll get a call on one of these dangerous forays, but it’s just as well it wasn’t in this game, which already featured enough questionable calls to fuel several conspiracy-theory web sites.
Game of A Season: Kendrick Perkins - 15 points (7-9 field goals), 9 rebounds
Perkins’ Game 4 output for points and field goals exceeded his numbers for the entire series up to this point. Anyone who had him hitting multiple midrange jump shots should cash in those tickets immediately.
Game of A Series: Kevin Durant - 36 points (18 in the fourth quarter)
Like Durant, this analysis has saved the best for last. His heroics in the playoffs thus far have included two game-winning shots, five 20-10 efforts, and 89 total minutes of rest in 13 games, but he was never better than during his run of 14 consecutive Thunder points in tonight’s fourth quarter.
Any predatory metaphor was appropriate, as Durant lay in the weeds for much of the game watching his frontcourt partners wreak havoc, only to pounce on the Spurs’ best chance to take a lead.
His onslaught was all the more impressive because he eschewed his frequent long-distance approach in favor of establishing mid-post position or attacking the rim for high-percentage shots.
The scoring run loses a little of its luster since much of it came against the under-sized Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but 14 points in less than four minutes of NBA action is staggering in any context.
Special credit also goes to Harden and Russell Westbrook, who both accepted their own shooting slumps (6-23 combined field goals in Game 4) and kept feeding the hot hand.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.