I’m sure every Thunder fan still remembers all too well the Game 2 meltdown between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and the way they were shouting at each other going into a timeout. That game resulted in the worst postseason loss in the OKC era, 112-77, also known as a 35-point slaughtering. But in the three-day period between Games 2 and 3, it was announced that Serge Ibaka would make it back in time for Game 3.
Fast forward to Game 4. Having already lost Game 3 in fairly convincing fashion, Game 4 was turning into a slaughter reminiscent of Game 2. Only this time, the shoe was on the other foot. Tim Duncan was walking towards the Spurs sidelines, and before he knew it, he was getting an earful from his head coach, Gregg Popovich. Duncan, genuinely surprised, started yelling back, no doubt wondering why Popovich was suddenly jumping down his throat. Game 4 was a mirror image of Game 2 in so many ways, even with the blown out team going from losing, to losing their cool.
I think what surprises me more than anything is that it’s Popovich who really started blowing a gasket during the game. His face on the sidelines said it all. He just could not understand how the return of one player could completely derail his team’s psyche. Ibaka didn’t even put up near the same numbers he did in Game 3, but he didn’t need to do so. His mere presence alone held the Spurs under 40% shooting for the second straight meeting. Needless to say, you didn’t want to be in on Popovich’s postgame press conference. If you asked a question, you weren’t getting out of that room without some sort of tongue lashing.
And what I think may be driving Popovich crazier than anything is the fact that now the Spurs are headed back to San Antonio with no answers for how they plan to combat “The Ibaka Effect”, which if you didn’t know, is Ibaka’s mere presence in their heads altering their shooting arcs. Games 3 and 4 weren’t only notable for being the two games in the series where the Spurs failed to shoot 40% from the field. This two-game stretch is now also notable for the Spurs offense’s inability to hit the 100-point mark before the final buzzer sounds. As a matter of fact, Game 4 saw Duncan fail to double in any stat category, even points.
Game 5 comes to us Thursday night at 8 pm CST from AT&T Center. The Thunder have to take at least one in San An if they hope to take the series. And with the momentum definitely with the Thunder going in, Game 5 looks like as good a time as any to get that done. Will “The Ibaka Effect” take hold of the Spurs once again? Tune into TNT tomorrow night for the answer.