The drama is back in the Western Conference Finals

by

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.


  • tigersfc21

    spurs called the bluff. they’ll get tonight’s game! they just need to get off to a strong first quarter and set the pace.

  • SpurredOn

    Headlines are already written. OKC wins: “Ibaka’s return fuels team to victory; series now flipped”. OKC loses: “Injured Ibaka a detriment to OKC, not able to help team”. No mention, naturally, about the Spurs. Nor an understanding that all series have an ebb & flow, and OKC is most certain to win tonight with or without Ibaka, unless one expects a Spurs sweep. Their role players will make a few shots while their stars will score more than in game 2. This is all quite likely to happen regardless of Ibaka playing. There’s also the issue of San Antonio having lost seven consecutive games in OKC.

    I think it more impressive that the Spurs have won so easily the first two games despite not having a full strength Tony Parker. Should he be at or near 100% tonight and going forward, that would be the improved health status more likely to have an impact on this series though by far the least noted.

    Lastly, Matt, I think the influence of Ibaka on OKC’s offense is a bit overstated. The 100% shooting game from two years back influences thought far too much. I expect that from him again as much as I expect it from Perkins.

  • Saxmann

    The Spurs have been so tight as a unit that they can predict the future.

  • LES CARTER

    These are the Three T’s……Tony, Tim, & Tough Manu…….what wouldn’t you expect,
    BRING HOME RING #5!

  • idahospur

    I think it’s a lot like when Manu broke his arm. Really should not have played and the Spurs still lost the series. If Thunder win I still expect them to go down in 5 or 6 games. If Thunder lose Ibaka sits out next game.

  • Dapimp Ofdayear

    Remember when Scott Brooks told the media, “Despite what the Spurs are thinking, Ibaka’s not coming back. He’s not walking through those doors.” Now he and his organization are the ones looking like liars.

    Man, I bet the Spurs are so focused, locked in, and determined over all this misdirection and deception BS. They’ve heard for a week now, “You’re only dominating because Ibaka’s out. You’re not that good.” You think that doesn’t piss them off? You think that they’re not angry that Brooks basically called them “wrong” and “paranoid” in the media only to have the Spurs proven right all along? I bet those dudes got fire in their eyes. Even if Ibaka was 100% healthy (which he’s not), the Thunder, barring a significant injury from San Antonio, are NOT winning this series. The Spurs will not let it happen, trust me. If they have to empty the tank to beat OKC, they’ll do it. They’ll worry about Miami later. They want this one bad.

    Regardless, This Ibaka stunt is just for the emotional boost. Both his effectiveness and minutes on the floor will be very limited. You just don’t go from “out for the season” to “ready to make a meaningful contribution in the Western Conference Finals” in a few days. Doesn’t happen. And just like another commenter said, if OKC drops this game, Ibaka won’t be back.

  • Fred

    if Ibaka plays and re-injuries the ensuing finger-pointing will be a fun thing to watch.

  • David Salazar

    i bet brooks will be gone if they lose this series

  • fkj74

    If we play our game..we win period. Go Spurs!

  • Matthew R Tynan

    Yeah, you’re right……..

  • SpurredOn

    Well, no 100% shooting from him or Perkins. He hit some stand still jumpers as a man with ten days rest should, much as the OKC role players shot better at home. Nothing to overreact to. We’ll see how those trends continue Tuesday then Thursday night.