Psychologically, this is a must win for the Spurs.
They need to win tonight to prove to themselves that history will not repeat itself: This isn’t the 2012 Western Conference Finals, and, soon, this won’t be the 2013 NBA Finals.
The Spurs have lost eight straight games in Oklahoma City, six against Ibaka, five this year, and they will have to face one of the loudest crowds in the league again tonight—hopefully, for the last time this year.
What team recovers better from a loss than the Spurs?
San Antonio has a 10-5 record through these NBA Playoffs while the Thunder stand at an even 8-8.
If there’s one thing the Spurs surely have over OKC, it’s mental toughness.
One through 12, every roster spot knows their role on the team, their bench has been an extension of the starting lineup, and they (usually) play well on the road.
The Thunder made several changes to the starting lineup for Game 3, moving Russell Westbrook to the shooting guard and Serge Ibaka to the power forward. With Westbrook at the 2, he can focus more on just running the offense. He can move without the ball, run off screens and look to make a play cutting to the basket.
Will Ibaka be able to re-create his Game 3 performance?
Chances are, no.
With that kind of injury, a Grade-2 calf strain, it takes time to rehab. The difference between four days of rest versus 48 hours of rest is huge.
We saw Ibaka limp off the court after seemingly re-aggravating his injury; but it turns out it was just a cramp in his other leg. He even apologized to his teammates for his play in Game 3, claiming he wasn’t moving as well as he wanted.
If OKC wins tonight they will head to San Antonio for Game 5 with an unheralded confidence, something they will need to even up this series without their home crowd behind them for Game 5.