Sunday, May 25, 2014

Spurs - Thunder Game Three: Power Serge

Ibaka Iblocka
When last we left the Spurs-Thunder series, it looked as over as possible. The Spurs had gone nearly wire to wire in two straight home wins, leading to extensive garbage time. Power forward Serge Ibaka was out for the season, and the Thunder had no idea how to get an acceptable lineup on both ends of the floor without him. The Spurs had that Inevitable Vibe about them, and OKC looked worse than Portland, who the Spurs had rolled without much effort in the previous round.

And then the news came out that Ibaka's season-ending injury was, well, just plain gone, and he was going to start Game Three. And that coach Scott Brooks, fresh off a "Weekend at Bernie's" level coaching performance in the first two games, was going to bench Thabo Sefalosha for Reggie Jackson. Voila, two-way lineup achieved. Ibaka did, indeed, start, and was just the bet player on the floor for vast stretches at a time. Jackson played well, and even Kendrick Perkins showed a pulse. And suddenly, the Thunder were getting stops on defense and movement on offense, and the Spurs were reduced to just staying in contact, and then, not even that. Ibaka played 30 minutes, and went 15/7 with 4 blocks, while shooting 6 of 7 from the floor. I'm sure there have been bigger turnarounds in a series, but not in this playoff season.

With eight minutes left in the third and the Spurs starting to lose touch, there was a moment where things looked like they would tighten up. Kawhi Leonard saved a possession with a swooping dunk that drew oohs and aahs from the crowd; a potential turning moment given the tone of the play, and the fact that despite high percentages from the floor, the Thunder had not been able to pull away. But Ibaka came back to get to the line, and then just flat ended Tony Parker on a drive to the hoop that ended all sense memory of Leonard's play. Ibaka then did it again a minute later on a drive off a scramble play by Danny Green. The blocks became contagious, the refs started parading Thunder players to the line while the Spurs swung the ball to avoid Ibaka, and the game started to look a lot more like the series from two years ago, when the Thunder overcame an early series deficit to end the Spurs' winning streak, and then, their season. Your third straight game where the fourth quarter didn't really matter ended with the Thunder winning, 106 to 97. Don't be fooled, it wasn't nearly that close.

Will the Thunder do 2012's trick again and get back to the Finals? Well, a disparity of dozens of free throws, and the Spurs flirting with their playoff history low before some bailout calls in garbage time, should strain all credibility. To be blunt, there were a half dozen calls in the second half of this one that made my eyebrows migrate to my hairline. (Specifically, the made three-pointer by Patty Mills, waved off to a post-shot leg shimmy, otherwise known as a call that, had it been made in Reggie Miller's career, would have gotten him into the broadcast booth plague three years faster.)

But even if the FTs had been even in this one, OKC would have won without drama, because Ibaka was just that good, and the Spurs had no answers. I suspect they'll be better in Game Four, because Gregg Popovich is a great coach, and the ref work won't be so blatant...

But make no mistake about it; the Thunder scare the hell out of the Spurs, and should. OKC won without great games from Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, which didn't seem possible. They ended them two years ago; they went 4-0 against them in the regular season, and they might make them look worse than any other team in the Association. The Spurs have dropped eight straight in OKC. And it seems kind of amazing, but I'm starting to think that whoever wins the next game wins the series, even though a loss would just mean it's 2-2 with the Spurs having home court.

That game is on Tuesday. Maybe it'll even be exciting to watch late?

1 comment:

snd_dsgnr said...

I'm not sure that it speaks well of me that I feel so smug after telling everyone at work with even a passing interest in basketball that Ibaka's absence was making a much bigger difference than his numbers would indicate.

Ads In This Size Rule