Did Serge Ibaka Just Help Make The 2014 Western Conference Finals A Series Again?
Prior to Game 3 of the 2014 Western Conference Finals last night, just about everyone out there thought that the San Antonio Spurs were going to advance to the 2014 NBA Finals next month. Easily. The Spurs were beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 2-0 in their best-of-7 series and, the truth is, it felt more like it was already 4-0. The Spurs destroyed the Thunder in Games 1 and 2 of the series in San Antonio and it didn’t look like Oklahoma City had any chance of rebounding from the beatdowns they received. But then, they did rebound last night—both figuratively and literally—when Serge Ibaka returned to the Thunder lineup after missing the first two games of the series with a calf injury. And just like that, it finally feels like the Spurs/Thunder series is a series again.
To be fair to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook—the Thunder’s two superstars—the Thunder probably had a chance, albeit a small chance, to beat the Spurs even before Ibaka returned to the lineup. But Ibaka provided the Thunder with a lot of the little things that they were missing in Games 1 and 2 last night as well as some really big things. For instance, Ibaka’s presence gave the Thunder another decent scorer on the court alongside Durant and Westbrook. He also grabbed his fair share of rebounds. But above all else, Ibaka’s tough defense and his ability to protect to the rim are what made him infinitely invaluable to the Thunder. He presented a matchup problem for the Spurs on offense and forced the Spurs to alter the way they attacked the basket because of his defense. And he should be able to continue doing both of those things during the remainder of the series.
As a result of it, the Spurs/Thunder series is suddenly very intriguing. Before last night, we weren’t really even interested in seeing what Games 3 and 4 were going to look like. The Spurs sweeping the Thunder—or beating them 4-1—was almost a foregone conclusion. But now, the Thunder have a real chance to tie the series up in Game 4 and make the series a series again. And we can’t wait to see how it all plays out.