After losing the first two games against the San Antonio Spurs by a total of 52 points on the road, the Oklahoma City Thunder returned home and finally took care of business in game three. Now with just a one-game deficit, the Thunder have a chance to even things up in game four before heading back to San Antonio (9pm ET, Tuesday on TNT).
It took the Spurs seven games to get past the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs and five to get past the Portland Trailblazers in the second round, but it looked like they would need the minimum to get past the conference finals.
The Thunder were quite simply and quite honestly overmatched. San Antonio’s veteran lineup found their way to the rim both early and often. The team had no trouble getting and making open shots and OKC’s defense seemed content to just watch them do it.
The Spurs scored a playoff high 122 points in the first game and 112 in the second. On the season, they averaged just over 105. Tim Duncan, who averaged a modest 15.1 PPG during the regular season, combined for 41 points in the Spurs’ two wins. Additionally, all but one of the starting five scored in double digits in the first game. In the second game, San Antonio saw both Tony Parker and Danny Green top the 20-point mark as Oklahoma City’s star Kevin Durant recorded just a measly 15.
San Antonio looked like the better team and played like it too. They looked like a team on a mission to return to the NBA Finals and get revenge on what could be last year’s champion, the Miami Heat. However, the Spurs did do all of this on their home court, a place where they won 32 games and lost just nine.
In game three, which perhaps not coincidentally was played away from San Antonio, the Thunder managed to get the win. The nine-point deficit at the end of four quarters was by no means a sign of a blowout. OKC’s best quarter saw them only outscore San Antonio by five points. However the Thunder did manage to do something they haven’t all series and that is close out a game.
No one thought the Spurs would sweep the series but the way it started, things were in doubt and may still be. The Thunder did win game three but will this be their only win of the series? Or is it possible these finals will see the home team win every game? Or maybe just maybe, this game and the all-important return of Serge Ibaka (pictured above), will be a momentum swing that fans in OKC won’t soon forget.
Speaking of Serge Ibaka
The star of the Thunder is undoubtedly Kevin Durant. I have talked about his importance to the team in previous posts and could justifiably do so again. He really is that crucial and his production is key every time OKC takes the court.
But Durant isn’t the only one. Russell Westbrook, the team’s second leading scorer, is becoming a star in his own right. Behind Durant, Westbrook is flourishing and his scoring is reaping the benefits. Durant and Westbrook combined for 51 points in the Thunder’s game three win and that is no coincidence. These two are the scorers and if San Antonio can keep them honest like they did the first two games, plain and simple, the Thunder have no chance.
Now this is going to sound a bit odd considering how much weight I just placed on Durant and Westbrook’s shoulders, but it is actually a different player who made the biggest game three difference and whose return, as I mentioned above, could have a far-reaching impact on OKC’s hopes to remain in the postseason.
Before the third game was even played, everyone was talking about what Ibaka’s return would mean for the Thunder. Keep in mind, this is a 6’10, 245 lb center who averaged 15+ and 8+ over the course of the regular season.
Ibaka brings something vital to the Thunder in the fact that he gives them size. The lineup is overall pretty small and as a result, faltered against San Antonio’s bigger and more physical squad. But Ibaka makes a difference. He gives the Thunder a tall, demanding presence under the rim and in the middle of the court. But more than that, Ibaka is actually an offensive threat unlike the three other players OKC was playing while Ibaka recovered. Again, that is a huge difference maker for a team that only managed to score 77 points in game two.
Ibaka picked up his usual 15 and seven boards in game three and his defense kept the Spurs’ starters at bay. Only Duncan and Kawhi Leonard managed to score more than 10 as starters and even though Manu Ginobli had a respectable 23 points off the bench, the outputs weren’t enough.
CBS Sports and Zach Harper may have put it best when before the game, he wrote, “This is a match-up the Thunder have dominated for a couple of seasons now, but they needed a full complement of players to get it done.”
Now that Ibaka is back and is healthy, the Thunder have that full complement. If ever they were primed for a momentum swing, game four would be it.
Spurs at OKC Game 4 Betting Picks Verdict
Game four is going to tell us a lot about the direction this series will go in. If the Thunder win, we have things all tied up with a pattern of winning at home favoring the Spurs and their home-field advantage. If the Spurs win though, which is more than possible considering how well this team makes adjustments, this series is as good as over.
I spent this entire preview talking about the Thunder and that is for good reason. While I am still on record as saying Spurs in six, I do think this is a home game that OKC will win. Durant has a lot riding on this and he knows the perils of falling 3-1 better than anyone. Playing in front of his biggest fans, I can’t believe he or his team will let them down.