The Oklahoma City Thunder found themselves in the depths of a 2-0 hole before they could even blink. They were without their defensive lynchpin and seemingly had no answers for the formidable San Antonio Spurs outfit. Then Game 3 happened.
Serge Ibaka returned to the lineup, Scott Brooks made some strategic changes to the starting lineup and the Thunder were able to grab themselves a Game 3 win and get themselves slightly back in the series. They are going to need another terrific team performance and some brilliance from the dynamic Kevin Durant and explosive Russell Westbrook if they want to even the ledger.
Teams that find themselves in a 3-1 hole, VERY rarely overcome that margin (8 teams in 214 situations) which displays the importance of the Thunder grabbing this one.
With a full lineup, the Thunder looked like themselves again. They weren’t bullied in the paint like they had been throughout the first two games and they were able to limit the effectiveness of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Danny Green. Reggie Jackson adds that element of speed and on ball defense that makes life difficult and along with the athleticism of Westbrook, they were able to stop the Spurs getting into the flow of their offense.
The battle between Kahwi Leonard and Kevin Durant is as exciting as it is intriguing and could really be the key to the rest of the series – well, that and the health of Ibaka. We saw in just the span of two short games, the influence of Serge and just what he means to this team.
In a precarious position, the Oklahoma City Thunder should be confident that their best is good enough, but also wary that the San Antonio Spurs are not a team that goes away quietly and makes adjustments extremely well. They are seasoned and experienced, talented and deep. However, the Thunder in their own right – belong here. They have been the second best team in the West all season long. Now they get another chance at proving it.
The Thunder bench is going to need to bring the energy again in this one. With Jackson in the starting lineup, the bench loses some of its potency, so players like Caron Butler, Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb become extremely important. OKC would also like to get out to a fast start at home. It keeps the crowd engaged (and WHAT a crowd the Thunder have!) and makes life tough for opponents. Feeding off this energy and starting strongly will not only give the Thunder the confidence they need, but it will put the pressure back on the Spurs to execute.
Serge Ibaka was the hero of Game 3, but he is definitely not 100%. It might be someone else’s turn to step up and be counted in Game 4. Kevin Durant – the stage is yours.