Spurs (10-5, 3-2 road) Thunder (9-7, 6-3 home)
Game 3 was big. Game 4 is bigger-er. Game 3 was a must-win in the sense that no team has ever climbed out of a 3-0 hole, and the Thunder played with the kind of desperation showing full knowledge of that. Overcoming a 3-1 deficit is do-able, in the sense that it’s been done. But heading to San Antonio with elimination at stake in Game 5 would put the Thunder in a very, very difficult position.
The return of Serge Ibaka saved OKC’s season, but that emotional lift is gone. He’s still back, and should be a little bit healthier for tonight, but now it’s about playing. The Spurs took a big punch from the Thunder and made sure to acknowledge they didn’t match intensity. So tonight, they’re going to take their best shot.
What the Thunder can’t do is try to replicate Game 3. Nick Collison said it after Game 1 that each night is its own isolated event, and the trends don’t carry over the way we think they do. This will be different, and the Spurs will have new things ready that the Thunder will have to counter.
If you remember, the Thunder rolled up the Spurs pretty good in Game 3 in 2012, then had to fight tooth and nail for Game 4, with Ibaka going 11-of-11 and Durant icing the game from the free throw line extended as OKC ran the same play over and over and over again. It’s going to take that kind of closing act again, with the Thunder executing in the halfcourt, and more importantly, making some shots.
Five Big Things
1. 3-point line. The Thunder overcompensated a bit with Ibaka’s return, closing the door on easy buckets in the paint. It opened opportunities from the perimeter for the Spurs, and they didn’t capitalize on some good looks. Manu Ginobili made shots, but Danny Green wasn’t able to shake loose. They’re going to get some chances.
2. Parker. Ibaka’s presence helped limit Tony Parker’s chances in the paint, but it was also Russell Westbrook cranking up his defensive pressure. Parker is the engine that runs the Spurs with how he collapses defenses and forces help from all over. OKC has to contain him as best it can, otherwise, it presents those chances for their shooters to hurt you.
3. Starting five. The remade starting five was awesome in Game 3, posting an offensive rating of 150.4. The Spurs are going to adjust and try to limit those weakside slashes from Reggie Jackson. They overloaded to the strongside to bracket Durant and Westbrook, so having Jackson there opened up some space. The Spurs are going to correct that.
4. Turnovers. The Thunder were sloppy in Game 3 and got away with it because they played great defense. Can’t plan on giving it away close to 20 times and not pay for it.
5. Intensity, effort, energy. It seems as if all those things the Thunder keep saying they need, are exactly what they’ve needed.
Tip at 8:00 CT. Go Something.