We know Chesapeake Energy Arena is one of the hardest arenas to play in, and now the Spurs have lost eight consecutive games there. It didn't help that 18,000-plus OKC fans got a nice surprise on Sunday with the announcement that Serge Ibaka would be starting. It helped even less that Ibaka came out and scored the first basket of the game. He started the game 4-of-4, ended the game 6-of-7, and with each made shot the crowd increased its volume. Then they increased it every time he he got his hands on the ball, which happened on the defensive side, well, let's just say it happened enough.
The Thunder started the game with a higher level of activity on the defensive side than previously seen during the first two games of the series, with OKC stepping into passing lanes that were previously open for the Spurs, contesting every shot, and generally making it uncomfortable for the Spurs offensively. San Antonio shot just under 40% in this game, although they did shoot a solid, if unspectacular 10-26 from three (38.4%.) All in all, the return of Ibaka ignited the Thunder team, but his return on defense was more like throwing gasoline at a pilot light. They gave the Spurs fits inside all season, and without Ibaka in games one and two, the Spurs had 120 total points in the paint. Tonight they had 46. The paint just seems so much more daunting to the Spurs with Ibaka in the game, and everyone on the Thunder steps up to his energy level. Even with Kendrick Perkins in foul trouble, Steven Adams came in and looked like Ibaka Light with nine rebounds and four blocks; he only looked bewildered in the first two games. Oklahoma City completely dominated the Spurs on the rebounding front, winning the battle of the boards 52 to 36, and 15 to 11 on the offensive side.
The Spurs shot half as many free throws as the Thunder, going 15-of-16 while the Thunder went 26-of-31. You can question the refs, but the Spurs just weren't aggressive. Tony settled for long jumpers (going 4-of-13 for nine points,) and so did most of the team. There are some nights when the shots just don't fall, and at times tonight felt like one of those nights. Aggression becomes key when the shots don't fall, and there was a lack of it not only in the Spurs' actions, but also in their eyes. Manu Ginobili was the only offensive bright spot for the Spurs on Sunday night. He scored 20 points by the half, but only scoring three the rest of the game.
While the Thunder's defense stepped up for Game Three, the Spurs' defense stepped down. San Antonio's bad rotations and uncontested jumpers led to the Thunder not having to work for much. The Durant-Westbrook combo combined for 51 points (although, let's be honest, it's not like they had their best games - it could have been worse) and Spur-killer Reggie Jackson had 15. The types of shots the Spurs were giving up to the Thunder were the real issue. Wide open corner threes and empty lanes aren't what we are used to from the Spurs' defense. Two blocks to their 10 ain't gonna cut it.
A lot has been made about the possible similarities to the 2012 series, and unfortunately that talk will continue. But, with Tony being shut down, Ibaka tearing up the paint, and the Spurs seeming frazzled in OKC, is it really that different?
Tweets N' Things
#IbakaEffect Spurs shot 67% in paint in Games 1& 2, 48% in Game 3— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 26, 2014
Ibaka effect: Spurs average FG attempt with Serge Ibaka on court: 16.4 feet; off court: 7.8 feet— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 26, 2014
Tell me one player doesn't make a difference.
Good joke, Pop!
Thunder playing with so much more effort than the Spurs. Just relentless on the glass.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) May 26, 2014
Kinda just sums up the game, huh?
I'll leave you with the...
Quote of the Post-Game:
"Talk about whatever you want. They beat us. We're going to play another game, and we'll be ready for that one."- Tim Duncan, backing up the salt truck to Chesapeake Energy Arena