The first two games of the series were at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, and the Spurs won both games by a combined 52 points. Game 3 and 4 move to Oklahoma City, and Game 3 kicks off Sunday at 8:30 p.m. EST.
The Spurs were reluctant to believe that Thunder starting power forward Serge Ibaka would actually be out for the entire series, and it seems Ibaka may, in fact, actually play.
In 7days, Ibaka went from “expected to miss the remainder of the 2014 postseason” to “there is a possibility for him to play in this series”
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 23, 2014
If Serge does suit up for Game 3, or even the rest of the series, that doesn’t mean he is going to be the Ibaka we are expecting to see, or the Ibaka that the OKC Thunder need to get back to the NBA Finals.
As seen through the faults of Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City needs their third best player to be an athletic force to maintain the constant paint penetration by Tony Parker and the Spurs.
Though he’s most notably known for his defensive presence, Ibaka has developed a stellar jump shot which provides the Thunder with better floor spacing. Additionally, Ibaka’s defender has to respect the power forward’s shooting ability and guard him outside the paint; this allows Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to more easily get into the lane for less contested buckets.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich knew Ibaka would play, all along. From Dan McCarney of Spurs Nation:
“Shocked,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, never one to pass up an opportunity for sarcasm. “So surprised.”
“Like I told you from the beginning, I know Sammy (Presti, Oklahoma City’s general manager and former Spurs assistant GM). We knew (Ibaka) would be back. And that’s good. Nobody would wish it on anybody to miss the playoffs. We’ve had guys miss playoffs before and it’s obviously a downer. So if he gets back in, and I’m sure he will as I’ve said from the beginning, I think it’s great.”
Regardless, the Spurs have a 2-0 lead, and this time, history won’t repeat itself. When the Spurs lost to the Thunder in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, they also gained a 2-0 lead; then, the Thunder won four straight games to reach the Finals
But, like I said, this time is different.
Why? Because of this guy.
Or, rather, the lack of him.
Air Alamo Featured Columnist Nick Elizondo explains the importance of the bench play for both teams. James Harden destroyed the Spurs in 2012 WC Finals, and the Thunder bench has certainly now changed without him.
Reggie Jackson, a sixth-man-of-the-year candidate, leads this group with his much-improved play. He has taken advantage against the Spurs in the regular season putting up 21.3 points and 4.5 assists. While the Spurs try to put most of their focus on Durant and Russell Westbrook, this has allowed Jackson to exploit the lack of pressure on him.
Steven Adams has been a key big man off the bench since Game 6 during the MemphisGrizzlies series. Then there is Nick Collison who is always ready to hustle when he comes onto the floor and, of course, Derrick Fisher is always ready to knock down some deep-ranged shots.
Jeremy Lamb has been absent for the most part of this post season, but he has played well against the Spurs during the regular season as well, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get some minutes in there. Caron Butler was a big mid-season addition for the Thunder. Although he has struggled to fit in so far, he is still someone who can bring out a big game. It is never safe to count him out.
The San Antonio Spurs will need to prepare for the shooting touch and athletic defense of Serge Ibaka, regardless if he ends up playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Let’s get back to the Finals, fellas.