Spurs (10-4, 3-1 road) Thunder (8-7, 5-3 home)
This is where things have to change. Serge Ibaka or not, the Thunder can’t resemble the team in San Antonio whatsoever. They’re already in the 2-0 hole and while this has been overcome before, 2014 does not equal 2012. Circumstances are different and the hill is steeper to climb. Kevin Durant simply answered this morning when asked if this was must-win. “Yeah.” That’s it.
Obviously the potential return of Ibaka has changed not just the potential on-court complexion, but the emotional feel. The Thunder have a little hope, a reason to believe that they can be whole again. This isn’t two straight seasons their postseason has been ruined, as long as they’re willing to answer the call starting now.
The Spurs are merciless, and the series transitioning to OKC doesn’t mean they’re going to start tripping. Their system travels and their players have seen everything. But I can’t stress it enough: They aren’t 35 points better than the Thunder, with or without Ibaka. That was an embarrassment and I have to believe this roster has too much pride to just lay down for a sweep.
Five Big Things
1. Starting five. It may solve itself for Scott Brooks if Ibaka is able to play tonight, but within that, Thabo Sefolosha shouldn’t play. He’s adding absolutely nothing other than pump fakes, and the Thunder need a more offensive approach to begin the game. Obviously defense has been a considerable issue, but one end is impacting the other right now.
2. Others. Durant and Westbrook scored all 20 points for the Thunder during a 13-minute stretch in Game 2 where OKC got outscored 48-20. They took 23 of the 26 shots and used almost every single possession. They’re caught in a difficult position having to do everything because there’s nothing else. They need help, and they have to sort of create it themselves.
3. Westbrook. The feeling coming in to this series was the Thunder has a considerable advantage because of Westbrook. He hasn’t flexed his muscles in his mismatch yet and has just played out of control and tried to do too much. He needs to distribute, take smart shots, post, attack and finish. If the Thunder are winning tonight, it’s going to be because Westbrook flirts with a triple-double.
4. Pick a better poison. The Thunder overcompensated in Game 2 trying to seal the paint and left Danny Green all alone to punish them from 3. They have to do both. Somehow.
5. Ibaka. It would appear he’s back, but how back? How many minutes will he play? You know the Spurs are going to immediately test him in the pick-and-roll over and over, putting as much pressure on that calf as they possibly can. Can Ibaka hold up?
Tip at 7:30 CT. Go Serge.