The Thunder inserted Jackson into Sefolosha’s spot in the starting five for Game 3, and he paid off with 15 points.
The big story however, was the surprisingly quick return of Serge. Ibaka was originally thought to be done for the series with a calf injury but returned way ahead of schedule. He added 15 in Game 3 and BAM – 30 points between the two new additions to the lineup and the Thunder finally got the scoring they were lacking and won a game.
Then last night, we found out just how important Ibaka is to the Thunder. Sure Westbrook dropped 40 but his inflated point total was the primary result of OKC outscoring the Spurs 20-0 on the fast break. Ibaka’s defense – particularly early in the game – made all those quick extra buckets possible. His shot-blocking ability seemed contagious, and the Thunder began swatting San Antonio’s shots into the seats like they were playing against high-schoolers. OKC blocked 7 shots in the first half plus caused 7 turnovers, and won the game easily. Considering the entire Spurs offensive attack is predicated on Tony Parker’s ability to drive the lane and create off the dribble – Ibaka is a huge weapon for the Thunder to put back in their arsenal. Over the last two games Ibaka’s presence has not allowed Parker to penetrate as much as usual, and it has severely stagnated the Spurs offense. They look discombobulated, and that kind of inconsistency on one side of the ball tends to lead to pressing and eventually inconsistency on the other side. In the second half last night the Spurs, one of the great defensive teams of their era looked completely lost out there. Gregg Popovich, who usually looks furious, looked like he was about to start punching babies. Even the eternally stoic Tim Duncan flipped out on Danny Green and pretty much everyone on the team for being out of position defensively all night. In the words of Lance Stephenson, it appears Ibaka is in the Spurs heads.
In their heads is where he should be, the Thunder have won 12 of the last 14 games they have played against San Antonio with Serge in the lineup. He adds 10-15 points a game and seems to take away that amount as well – and he has single-handedly turned this series upside-down. After the game Popovich said “I though about passing a picture out on the bench (so) they’d know who Serge was…instead of hitting open people out there, we started attacking the rim unwisely, and that turns into blocked shots.”
This series is now a best-of-3 and OKC has all the momentum. Your move, Pops.
Article By: Anthony Schiano