Oh, how the game has changed.
The Oklahoma City Thunder came into Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs down two games to none,with the idea of playing because they had nothing to lose. It seemed as though the Thunder were thoroughly outmatched by the Spurs due to San Antonio’s flow within its offense and the role players who are able to come off the bench and make almost as big of an impact as the starting unit. The Thunder do not have that kind of firepower off the bench like the Spurs; Oklahoma City relies on star players Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to carry most of the load. Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, Ibaka injured a calf muscle and was ruled out for the rest of the playoffs, which left a serious dent in a rotation that was without a solid scoring threat outside of Durant and Westbrook.
Then, to some speculation, Ibaka returned for Game 3.
The crowd in Oklahoma City went wild as Ibaka was introduced before the game and after he scored his first points in the game, which also happened to be the first bucket for the Thunder as well. Everything seemed right again for the team; the ball whipped around to multiple teammates, Westbrook and Durant played as if they were fired up to see their beloved teammate back and Ibaka was able to show the Spurs why he is one of the most important players in the Oklahoma City rotation.
Ibaka can stretch the floor and open driving lanes for Durant and Westbrook due to his ability to shoot the mid-range jump shot, and even step out behind the three-point line on occasion. Defensively, Ibaka is one of the best shot blockers in the NBA, and with his athleticism he can really make life difficult for any big man in the post, including the Spurs’ big boys, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. The Thunder took over from start to finish, winning Game 3, 106-97, and preventing the Spurs from taking a commanding 3-0 series lead.
The Thunder were able to get on the board, gaining momentum and confidence leading into Game 4, with the hope that the team could walk away evened with the Spurs going into Game 5.
Luckily for the Thunder, they were able to accomplish that, too.
The Thunder crushed the Spurs Tuesday night in Game 4, 105-92. Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka all combined for 80 points, showing just how dominant they can be as a trio against even the best teams in the NBA. Even though the rest of the team did not contribute much on offense, the ball was still moving to all of the right spots in the offense just where the primary scorers needed it to get the job done.
Everyone contributed on offense despite some players not contributing as much in the points department. Crisp passes were made at the right time, players moved and filled the lanes properly in transition and picks were utilized early to free up players to move well off the ball and position for open looks. Isolation offense did not rule the day for the Thunder in Game 4, which is exactly how it needs to be in order to beat the Spurs.
It’s one thing for the team’s best players to step up and hit shots, but the ball still needs to be moving instead of one player trying to play hero ball on offense. All in all, great showing for the Thunder offensively.
Now the series is tied at two games apiece, but with Ibaka back, the Thunder feel like more of a complete team and ready to take on San Antonio on the road. The Spurs will have to make serious adjustments now that Ibaka is back, and the team will have to figure out how to take those driving lanes away from Durant and Westbrook if the Thunder are going to truly be stopped. Forcing those two stars to take more shots in traffic may be the key to winning.
The Thunder have stormed back, and they are not going anywhere. Now the Spurs must figure out a way to make an impact in Game 5, or else it will soon be the Thunder’s series to lose.