The drama is back in the Western Conference Finals
The San Antonio Spurs blitzkrieg that’s taken the Western Conference Finals by storm over the first two games has been impressive to watch despite sucking any semblance of drama out of the juicy matchup with the Thunder. But suddenly, as the script flips to the Oklahoma City side of things, a new element has been added to the fold.
Serge Ibaka, the game-changing human fly-swatter, reportedly participated in the team’s shootaround and, barring any setbacks, will play in Sunday’s Game 3, a must-win for the Thunder.
By now I’ve smacked you in the face enough with the impact Ibaka has on a basketball game. His presence, if he’s healthy, is a giant factor on both sides of the ball, and I’d expect Oklahoma City to find that extra gear on the adrenaline-boost from their home crowd and teammate’s return to the court. But what can we expect from Ibaka after having missed a week and a half due to injury? If we are to believe previous reports, he hasn’t even had a chance to practice, and he’s still moving with considerable soreness.
Honestly, I have no clue. Not only about his potential effectiveness, but also in terms of what I believe coming out of the Thunder camp. A little bit more than a week ago this guy was apparently going to miss the entire postseason, now he’s set to play in Game 3 of the series. For all we know, the guy’s been doing backflips around the team’s facilities and challenging Russell Westbrook to foot races in the parking lot.
The Spurs have been skeptical all along, saying they had a pretty good feeling he’d make an appearance in this series. San Antonio is prepared, perhaps more than most of us were to hear the news of his return. Perhaps there’s a reason for the urgency they showed in the first two games; perhaps they knew it was a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if’ Ibaka would be back, and they understood the importance of grabbing this sort of head-start in such convincing fashion.
Questions surrounding his return can be asked now, but they won’t be correctly answered until later. Is this a desperation move we wouldn’t have seen if the series was, say, tied? Or is this guy really ready to go? I’d imagine, from the Spurs’ side of things, we’ll find out early and often what they think of the situation. Will San Antonio attack him with the pick-and-roll from the opening tip, or will they choose their spots judiciously and simply play the game they typically do? The way Gregg Popovich decides to approach this will be quite telling of what he believes Ibaka’s current physical state is at this point in the recovery process.
Meanwhile, don’t expect the Spurs to vary too much from the strategy they’ve employed through Games 1 and 2. They’re in control of this series at the moment, so don’t expect too many different looks. If anything does change, it will be because Ibaka has made his mark, as it’s difficult to envision the Thunder doing anything to drastically change the series without the help of their best defender and offensive pressure valve.
Regardless, at least for the moment, the drama is back in the Western Conference Finals.