As Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder in almost every statistical category throughout the playoffs, could they achieve even MORE if they found more of a role for Serge Ibaka?
With the series tied at 2-2 and the Thunder at home for Game 5. OKC will be looking for any edge, any advantage that can see them take momentum and the series lead. Often looking to the bench for support and production – and finally getting it in this series from the likes of Reggie Jackson, Caron Butler, Steven Adams etc – they might be able to more effectively utilize one of their starting unit as a way to make things easier down the stretch.
Often, Durant and Westbrook play so well together that they don’t really need too much on the offensive end. The duo regularly scores over 50 points between them while Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka play their role and focus more on the defensive side of the basketball. However, you can always improve and while the Thunder should really be 3-1 (that lapse in the fourth quarter of Game 4 really cost them a commanding series lead) finding another avenue to the basket is only going to help the team moving forward.
In the Game 3 victory, Serge Ibaka was the difference on the offensive end. He shot 90% from the floor (9/10) and produced 20 points within the flow of the Thunder’s offensive system. Durant still got 24 shots for 36 points and Westbrook took 14 shots on his way to 23 points and the Thunder took out the win 118-112. That type of balance allowed everyone to shoot over 50% from the floor, becoming a far more effective and efficient machine. The Clippers had no answer and along with the playmaking of Westbrook (13 assists) and Durant (6 assists) – the Thunder looked terrific.
During the closing stages of Game 4, it appeared as though the Oklahoma City Thunder just stopped. The Clippers made some match up adjustments – moving Chris Paul onto Durant – but they just attacked more ferociously and the Thunder tried to hold on. The offense reverted to a Westbrook / Durant heavy isolation set up, and OKC were unable to get it done in the closing minutes. If Ibaka plays more of a role throughout the game on the offensive end, does this make it harder for the Clippers to make these game winning adjustments and would it benefit the Thunder?
It is an interesting concept. While keeping the ball in the hands of your stars is a great strategy, and it has been very effective over the journey, could you get a little more by running a few more plays for Ibaka? The Miami Heat required the services of Chris Bosh alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. He played that “third star” role to perfection and was able to deliver in patches – taking some pressure off James and Wade but also throwing a different look at teams that were starting to adjust.
The Thunder are definitely a different team and have had a great deal of success in their current set up. In the fourth quarter of Game 4 though, the Clippers – Doc Rivers specifically – rolled the dice and made a big time adjustment and it threw OKC. It ended up costing them the game. If the Thunder can learn from that, it won’t all be in vain. If they can keep opponents guessing by throwing the ball to a super effective power forward with a nice jump shot, decent footwork, great athleticism and three point range every now and then, they might just find they are an even better team and tougher opponent to read.