Despite being down in their series 0-2, the Oklahoma City Thunder were 2-point favorites heading into Game Three against the Spurs. And with the unexpected return of Serge Ibaka, the Thunder were able to cover the spread and win by 9, to bring the series to 2-1. The win was the Thunders eighth in a row on the their home-court against the Spurs, which the Oklahoma City will hope to make nine in Game Four on Tuesday night.
Ibaka had missed the first two games of this series with a knee injury and was expected to be out the remainder of the playoffs. However, he returned triumphantly with 15 points and 7 rebounds in 30 minutes on the court. But what may have been even more impactful for OKC was the presence that Ibaka had in the lane on defense. Unlike in the first two games where Spurs big men dominated, Ibaka clogged up the middle of the lane and was able to get 4 blocks on the evening.
Along with Ibaka, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook also had big nights. Westbrook had 26 points and 8 rebounds, while Durant had 25 points and led the team with 10 rebounds. Another point to make note of in this game has been the growing importance of the contributions from Steven Adams. The first-year player out of Australia played 28 minutes, while starting center Kendrick Perkins was limited to jut 13 minutes on the floor. Adams also had 7 points, a high for Thunder bench players.
The Spurs received noticeably less contributions from their star players. While Manu Ginobili did come off the bench with 26 points, Tim Duncan had just 16 and Tony Parker only had 9. This is a much different tune than in the first two games of the series, which could be attributed to the addition of Ibaka in the paint. Aside from Ginobili and Duncan, the only other Spurs player to score in double digits was Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 10.
Serge Ibaka has played nearly just as many minutes on the court against the Spurs as he has been held out of during this season and postseason. When comparing those two settings, the Thunder have outscored the Spurs by 29 points and are also allowing just 93 points per 100 possessions. When Ibaka is not on the court, the Spurs have outscored the Thunder by 44 points, while also scoring 122.6 points per 100 possessions.
As mentioned, the Thunder are now 8-0 against the Spurs in Oklahoma City in as many meetings. They have their work cut out for them, but a win in Game Four would quickly even things out in this series, which would turn to a best-of-three situation. If Ibaka is able to continue playing, the Thunder may have a considerable advantage, which they demonstrated on Sunday evening. That said, the Spurs are still the favorites to win the NBA Championship at 20/23 odds, while the Thunder are at 18/1.
Before Game Four tips off, check back with sportspicks.com handicappers for insight into everything involving the Western Conference Finals. You can find more information as to whether or not Ibaka will play again, and how this could impact this series moving forward.