The San Antonio Spurs easily won the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, but a strong Game 3 showing from the Oklahoma City Thunder put them right back into the series. That strong showing was helped by the return of their defensive superstar. Power forward and rim protector, Serge Ibaka, returned for Game 3 after missing the first two games. Ibaka contributed 15 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks en-route to season saving, 106-97 victory on Sunday night. Ibaka, who injured his calf in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers, was believed to miss the rest of the playoffs. However, Ibaka gutted through 30 minutes and slowed the Spurs from driving into the lane at will. Ibaka’s presence slowed down San Antonio’s dynastic point guard, Tony Parker. Parker only managed to score nine points on 4-of-13 shooting. He committed four turnovers.
While Ibaka’s presence alone gave the Thunder life, OKC made several adjustments that helped erase bad memories from Games 1 and 2. OKC’s coach, Scott Brooks, opted to start back-up point guard, Reggie Jackson, alongside Russell Westbrook and relegate Thabo Sefelosha, who did not score in Games 1 or 2, to the bench. Jackson chipped in with 15 points and took some of the scoring onus off Kevin Durant and Westbrook. Unlike Games 1 and 2, Durant and Westbrook were aggressive and got to the basketball at will. Both players made all eight of their free throw attempts. Rookie center, Steven Adams was injected into the starting lineup and helped OKC out-rebound the Spurs, 52-36.
After running like a well-oiled machine in Games 1 and 2, San Antonio’s offense sputtered in Game 3. After making over 50 percent of their shots in the first two games, the Spurs made just 40 percent of their shots in Game 3. Manu Ginobili, who left with a foot injury and Tim Duncan were the only two Spurs in double figures.
OKC, according to NBA odds, is pegged as a 2.5 point home favorite in Game 4. I have a hard time believing the Spurs will drop two straight games, but I think OKC is hitting its stride at the right time. Ibaka’s mere presence is critical and I fully expected another emotional effort. Lay the points with the home team and get ready for a must-watch Game 5 Thursday night in San Antonio.
Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder -2.5