According to the final score, it doesn’t look like the Spurs lost that badly: 106-97.
OKC went on a 14-2 run late in the third quarter that lasted through the fourth, gathering a 95-78 lead—a tough comeback for even Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs shot only 33 percent in the fourth quarter and 40 percent overall, marking the first time the team has shot below 50 percent this series.
Serge Ibaka certainly didn’t look injured last night, as he started the game shooting a perfect four-for-four from the field. In 30 minutes he finished with 15 points on six-of-seven shooting, seven rebounds and four blocks.
During the commercial break, Serge Ibaka just blocked a bunch of people on Twitter.
— SportsNation (@SportsNation) May 26, 2014
Ibaka’s impact was easy enough to gauge from his stats: 15 points on just seven shots, seven rebounds and four blocked shots in 30 minutes. He was key on both ends, providing the rim protection the Thunder so sorely lacked in Games 1 and 2 while alleviating some offensive pressure off Durant and Westbrook. As for his emotional impact? Impossible to measure, but every bit as key as the Thunder improved to 11-2 against the Spurs since 2012, including 5-0 this season, with Ibaka in the lineup.
“I gained so much more respect for Serge, giving up his body for the team,” Durant said. “That’s somebody you want beside you every day.”
Ibaka wasn’t the only addition for Oklahoma City. Thunder coach Scott Brooks also cut the struggling Thabo Sefolosha — scoreless in the first two games — completely out of the rotation, inserting Reggie Jackson into his starting spot while feeding little used Jeremy Lamb backup minutes.
The move did wonders for Oklahoma City’s stagnant offense as Jackson totaled 15 points, five assists and four rebounds, while Lamb scored six points in 17 minutes.
As you’d expect, there was nary a peep out of the Spurs after Oklahoma City out-shot them 31-16 at the free throw line, including a staggering 22-0 edge in the third quarter to set an NBA record for largest disparity in a single period.
In a positive light, Manu Ginobili has been playing undeniably well throughout these 2014 NBA Playoffs. He recorded 23 points on eight-of-13 shooting, four assists and two steals without playing in the fourth quarter. He later headed to the locker room with an apparent injury.
Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated explains how, though Ibaka’s defense did make an impact in Game 3, there were other factors attributing to the Thunder’s blowout win; for example, Tony Parker’s play.
The Thunder’s spaced attack produced 46 points in the paint (a plus-six advantage) and 31 free throw attempts (a plus-15 advantage). Forcing the Spurs to account for Ibaka helped produce a plus-16 rebounding edge, the first time the Thunder won the boards in the series, and 15 second-chance points.
Perhaps most importantly, Oklahoma City was able to score consistently on a quarter-to-quarter basis, thereby avoiding the one-sided runs San Antonio used to blow open game after game in recent weeks. Durant and Westbrook combined for 51 points on 38 shots, one game after needing 40 shots to get just 30 points.
“Our defense was pretty poor,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Our first half was probably the poorest defense we’ve played in a very long time … It was a miracle it was a one-point game with 40 seconds to go in the first half from my perspective.”
The Spurs managed just 40 points in the paint after averaging 60 over Games 1 and 2. What’s more, San Antonio’s 39.6 percent shooting was its lowest mark of the postseason and its worst shooting performance in more than two months, dating back to a March 22 win over Golden State. The Spurs, who finished No. 2 in the league in field goal percentage, shot less than 40 percent just six times during the regular season. They also committed 16 turnovers, their second-highest total of the postseason.
“To hold this team to under 40 percent is a tough challenge, but we did it tonight,” Brooks said. “We played great defense. We did it one game. We’ve got to come back and do the same thing in a couple of nights.”
Parker, in particular, was bottled up throughout. He finished with nine points (on 4-for-13 shooting) and four assists against four turnovers. Outside of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Blazers, which he left early due to a hamstring injury, it was his worst showing of the postseason. If not for a sensational night from Ginobili, who hit six three-pointers en route to a team-high 23 points (on 8-for-13 shooting), San Antonio would have been toasted even earlier.
“We didn’t play good basketball, that starts with me,” Parker said. “I missed shots and had bad turnovers. I just have to play better.”
Attributing all of Oklahoma City’s success and all of San Antonio’s shortcomings solely to Ibaka would be an oversimplification: the one-legged man didn’t singlehandedly win this game. Brooks’ starting lineup changes paid dividends, the Thunder enjoyed a huge advantage at the stripe, and the Spurs’ shooters — aside from Ginobili — just didn’t have the touch from outside.
The Spurs have no need to panic; The Thunder was supposed to win this game—not that I’m making any excuses. Game 4 is Tuesday, May 27th at 9:00 p.m. ET on TNT in Oklahoma City.