Ibaka returns, surges Thunder to 106-97 Game 3 win

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By Kevin Green

Oh yeah, now they’ve got it. Resolve.

This game was actually weird to watch, honestly. After seeing the Thunder get dismantled in Game 1 and Game 2, the fact that Oklahoma City led by as much as 20 at one point didn’t seem right. Game 3 was different. Before, the Thunder was just firing shots at random and turning the ball over, never really putting any energy or effort on defense either. It was quite evident that they were missing something, and at times, it looked like there were plenty of other things wrong with OKC than just missing Serge Ibaka. This time, however, the Thunder made it look like the only problem was the absence of Ibaka. With Serge on the floor, they were more calm and controlled, and without a doubt, much more focused. As a result, Oklahoma City was able to inch closer to making this a series, beating the San Antonio Spurs 106-97.

From the moment that I learned about the starting lineups, I just had a feeling that this game would go well. Scott Brooks finally made some adjustments that I’ve been talking about for awhile now. He benched Thabo Sefolosha for the entire game, thank God, and started Reggie Jackson in his place. Once Ibaka was added to that list, Oklahoma City had itself a pretty good starting unit.

Ibaka hit his first shot of the game, which was also the first shot of the game, getting the crowd involved early. Serge ended up hitting his first five shots, finishing 6-7 from the floor for 15 points, while also pulling down seven rebounds and blocking four shots. Shockingly enough, he outscored the non-Russell Westbrook/Kevin Durant starters from the first two games in only 11 minutes. In addition, he altered so many shots that would have been easy buckets otherwise. The Spurs scored 40 points in the paint after averaging 60 in the first two games of the series. This type of performance by Serge can’t be simply summarized by stats though. The way he inspired the entire team was something to behold.

“When you talk about a teammate, that’s everything you want your teammate to embody, a guy that gives himself up for the team,” Durant said. “No matter how this game would have went tonight, I gained so much respect for Serge for laying it all on the line for us, putting his body out there and sacrificing his health for the betterment of the team. I’m glad we won the basketball game, but no matter what would have happened tonight, that’s something you want to have beside you every single day.”

 It had to be one of the best/most guttiest performances I’ve ever witnessed, because Serge was clearly not 100 percent out there, often heavily limping down the court, but he still somehow made the same impact he would have if he wasn’t injured, if not a bigger one. There were a few times where it looked like he had reached his pain limit and would be taken out, but he would look over to the bench and say “I’m good,” and signal a thumbs up.

 “I was so emotional, but you couldn’t really tell because I was on the court, but like I said earlier; I just want to thank my teammates, and thank Russ, he was trying to get me going early in the game, Kevin, Perk, Reggie; I will never stop thanking them for tonight,” Ibaka said. “I will never forget it, it was very special tonight.”

This playoff run by the Thunder is truly something magical. If they can pull this series out and advance to the NBA Finals, it will be almost unbelievable considering they would’ve overcome a deficit in all three series. Of course, this series is far from over. They absolutely have to win Game 4 at home or this series is over. They can’t afford to let the Spurs drive them into a corner, going back to San Antonio down 3-1. OKC is fully capable of playing as they did in Game 3 at any time, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. The Thunder needs to keep pushing them and pushing them to prove to not only the Spurs, but the media and NBA fan base that this game was not a fluke. I believe the Thunder is on the verge of playing like they did pre-All Star break, and Game 3 was the starting point. However, in order to stay evenly matched with a team like San Antonio, they will have to be able to play like that at will, that’s all there is to it.

“Words can’t describe it,” Caron Butler said. “In my career I have been part of a lot of great moments in basketball history. And that was a special one right there.”

A comeback similar to 2012 certainly seems possible, especially to Ibaka, who believes his team isn’t fighting for its playoff life alone.

Serge: “First on my mind, I just want to thank God. I am here tonight, it is because of Him. I want to just thank Him. I want to thank all the Thunder fans, I know they have been praying for me when I was hurt. I just want to thank them, and I want to thank my teammates. They gave me the confidence tonight to do what I came to do tonight.”

NOTES:

In all reality, the final score was not indicative of how bad this game actually got, but at the same time, the Spurs were within striking distance for most of the game, mostly because Manu Ginobili played out of his mind, shooting 8-13, 6-9 from three. The Thunder didn’t really pull away until their 12-2 run to begin the fourth quarter.

Steven Adams stepped up in a big way again. In 28 minutes, he scored seven points on 2-3 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds, and blocked four shots.

Jeremy Lamb actually played some solid basketball, believe it or not. In this series, he has shot 10-16, 62.5 percent, for 22 points. He is 9-13 from the floor, 69 percent, in the last two games alone.

Westbrook started 1-8, but went 7-11 for the rest of the game to finish with 26 points, 10 of which came in the final 2:21 of the second quarter. He also tallied up eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals.

In the third quarter, the Thunder took 22 free throws. They took 10 in all of Game 2. So Spurs fans can’t complain at all, regarding this matter.

During the post-game press conference, Greg Popovich mocked the Thunder’s handling of Ibaka’s injury when asked about Ginobili’s health.

“He’s fine… or he’s out for the playoffs,” Popovich said with some laughter. “Make sure Sammy (Sam Presti) gets that one.”

Nick Collison and Sefolosha contributed to the Thunder in Game 3 as much as they did in the first two games, which is sad because they actually played in the first two games. It’s like Brooks read my last two articles because I’ve been saying Thabo should not play at all for the rest of the series.

The Thunder starters scored 85 points in Game 3. They scored 92 total in the first two games.

Reggie Jackson scored 15 points on 6-13 shooting and dished out five assists as a part of the starting lineup.

Ibaka on his status for Game 4: “Yes, let’s see how I wake up tomorrow. My doctor just told me he expects I would know tomorrow, and he explained to me how I will feel a little bit sore tomorrow morning. So let’s see how I am going to wake up tomorrow … It is a little bit possible to get worse, but not a lot, not a lot. That is why I was able to go tonight, because they said it is just a little bit.”

Spurs fans were blowing up Twitter saying that the NBA is rigged and that’s why the Thunder won Game 3. So basically what they’re saying is that even though OKC was the second best team in the league this year, there is no way in the world they could possibly win a home game in a playoff series. Some fans can be so stupid. Derek Lewis of EastWord News is from San Antonio and grew up a Spurs fan, but he shows absolutely no bias while reporting, and as a result, he understands the game much better. Certain fans should take after him.

One Spurs fans tweeted this: “Ibaka = Overrated never won a MVP and never won a championship.” I can’t stand such ignorance, so I decided to respond with a tweet of my own. I said “Sounds like Kawhi Leonard.”

Apologies on the lateness of the recap, but I went to bed last night with a headache, so I slept in, which slowed things down a bit. Appreciate the patience.

Game 4 is on Tuesday at 8pm in Oklahoma City.

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