Ibaka’s Return Sparks Thunder in Game 3 Win
With the Oklahoma City Thunder down two games to none in the Western Conference Finals much has been made about the absence of Serge Ibaka.
The 6-10 center was sidelined by a left calf strain that he sustained in the Western Conference semifinals against the Clippers.
It was up until about four hours before game time that it was reported that Ibaka would start in Game 3.
Without Ibaka on the floor in Games 1 and 2, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were scoring at will.
All of that ended Sunday night.
The Thunder came out on top, besting the Spurs, 106-97. San Antonio now leads the series, 2-1.
From the start of this game it was evident that Ibaka was having no trouble shooting – and making – 17-foot jump shots.
He scored OKC’s first bucket of the game and never looked back.
By getting him into a steady rhythm early, Ibaka went on to make six of seven shots and scored 15 points.
He was also able to rise up and grab seven total rebounds, further indication that his calf is just fine to play on.
Ibaka was also very formidable on the defensive end of the floor. It was as if he did not miss a beat.
He was contesting any and every shot that was brought to the paint while he was on the floor, which made things very uncomfortable for the Spurs leading scorer, Tony Parker.
Parker, who is averaging 18 points this series against the Thunder, only scored 9 points on 30 percent shooting.
Ibaka’s exceptional play on the defensive end led to various fast break opportunities for the Thunder, who had 12 fast-break points (9 more than the Spurs).
The Thunder were also able to get significant contributions from the stars of the team, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
They combined for 51 of the team’s 106 points, despite Westbrook’s very slow start in the first half (3 of 11 from the floor).
Westbrook turned his poor start around, ending the game with 26 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block.
It is going to be a long uphill battle for the Thunder if they want to have a chance to reach the NBA Finals, but it appears the return of Ibaka has the team playing with an extra boost of energy.
That is exactly what they need if they hope to trump the experienced San Antonio Spurs, who seemed absolutely lost in Game 3.