After a disappointing first two games of the series, the Thunder retaliated in Game 3 with an impressive 106-97 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. Thanks in large part to the return of Serge Ibaka who returned from a calf injury that just a few days prior had him sitting out the rest of the playoffs. After falling into an 0-2, the Thunder were pretty much counted out of the series since, especially after the Spurs first two victories in the series were back-to-back blowouts.
Tonight, the Thunder return home for Game 4 with a chance to tie the series up 2-2.
Without question, Ibaka was the biggest difference maker in Game 3. In the first quarter, Ibaka came out with high energy and scored 8 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field. In his return he played 30 minutes, which was incredible since many thought he wouldn’t see the court again until next season. He also managed to bring back confidence to the team and he finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks.
Other than a stellar performance by Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, for the first time since the series with Dallas in the First Round, San Antonio actually looked beatable.
Tim Duncan and company only shot 39 percent from the field in Game 3, though, Ginobili did still end up torching the Thunder from the three-point line shooting 6-of-9 from deep. The Spurs did have a ton of open looks, but just had one of those nights where they couldn’t make them.
Tony Parker seemed to be distracted by the OKC defense all game long, especially by Ibaka who seemingly forced Parker to dribble the ball back out the top of the key rather than attack the basket like he was doing at will in games one and two.
However, the most impressive stat was the difference in how often the Spurs were scoring in the paint. In Games 1 & 2, San Antonio shot 67 percent. In Game 3, they only managed to shoot 48% in the paint.
The “Ibaka Effect” was in full force in Game 3 and if OKC continues to play the way they did in Game 3, then they may be able to come back in this series. Although Game 4 hasn’t even started yet, this almost looks like déjà vu.
In the 2012 Western Conference Finals the Thunder were down 0-2, then won four games straight to win the series and advance to the NBA Finals. If they can continue to disrupt Parker and limit points in the paint, they’ll definitely have a chance to redeem themselves in this series, that after the first two games seemed over.
Game 4 tips off tonight at 9 p.m. ET on TNT!
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