During the Western Conference Finals, J.A. Sherman of Welcome to Loud City and J.R. Wilco of Pounding the Rock will be discussing all things Spurs/Thunder and ThunderSpurs. The first installment is here. The second installment was in two parts, here and here. This is the third installment.
Last night, when was asked about Manu Ginobili leaving the game early in the 4th quarter, Popovich said, "He'll be fine ... Or he's out for the rest of the playoffs. You still gotta have some fun, even if you lose. Come on. It's basketball. Yeah, we wanted to win, but, you know, I want to laugh too."
First, I've been following this team for roughly forever and now Pop tells us that he wants to laugh? Now, after that game?
Second, now that we know that Ibaka isn't just able to play, but he's able to play at a level high enough to change the entire dynamic of the game to the point that the Thunder could arguably be said to be in the driver's seat for the series -- what do you think now about the out for the rest of the playoffs/Ibaka's not coming through that door comments? Think there's any chance that anyone in the entire Thunder organization (besides the players) actually thought Serge wouldn't be back? And if not, do you think it's any kind of serious issue, or just something to joke about like Pop did?
Ah, come on now, we all know that Pop has a dry sense of humor, right???
I don't know if we should look at his quip as anything more than a guy just making a joke and busting on "Sammy" Presti, a colleague and former member of the Spurs organization. Perhaps Pop had been angry at how the Serge Ibaka injury information had been handled, but I didn't get a sense of that at all. I think the old codger saw an opening and went for it. And as an aside, I found his comment refreshing. This wasn't some case of political scandal dissemination or anything; as he said, "It's basketball." There's no need to carry the bad vibes further than need be.
If Pop was discussing the actual contents of the game, well, sometimes you have to laugh about that too, even when your team plays poorly, you don't get the foul calls, the ball doesn't bounce right, etc.
Now, as far as this whole Serge Ibaka imbroglio goes, your guess is as good as mine. All I have to say is, these days in order to make a conspiracy work, you gotta be pretty smart and work along side a lot of smart people to make it happen. I tend to take things at face value; he was injured and it looked bad with lots of swelling. When the swelling went down, Ibaka's calf didn't look as bad as they initially thought. As far as the structural damage goes, I wish I knew more, but likely never will. Did a doctor misdiagnose him? Is there still structural damage that could worsen over time? I agree with one Twitter-er who said during the game, "I don't know if OKC should fire their medical staff...or give them a raise."
Did his teammates know anything? I'd guess not. They're always overly optimistic anyway, and chances are the front office will tell them to shush up or at the very least play it overly conservative. If it was a ruse from above, then that gets to the question of whether any league rules were violated. If they have, I haven't seen any stories that would indicate it.
The real question that matters though is whether Ibaka's performance is repeatable. He looked like he was in serious pain numerous times, especially when landing after blocking a shot. If his performance is repeatable, does this put OKC in the driver's seat? If he gets progressively worse, does the series return to what we saw in games 1&2?
A dry sense of humor is one thing. Playing around during an in-game interview in order to mock the idea of an in-game interview, sure. Going off-topic as a distraction from dealing with the media, ok. Going with single-word answers to keep from revealing strategy, absolutely. Flipping a question back on a reporter to keep from calling out the performance of a player in the press, always and forever.
But admitting that he wants to laugh? That's something else entirely. It's not just a new page in the "How Popovich deals with the media" playbook, it's an entirely different volume altogether. And it makes me think that things might not be quite exactly as they appear. But that's all I'll say about that for now.
As for whether OKC is in the driver's seat now if we assume that Ibaka's performance is repeatable, I'd say they absolutely are when playing at home. That crowd is huge, of course, but all role players play better at home. I expect Game 4 to be very much like Game 3. In fact, my mentality going in to Tuesday's game is the same I have when I watch a horror movie.
Here's how it works. At the beginning of a horror film, as every new character is introduced to the audience, I consider them already dead. Popular jock: won't make it. Nerdy kid with a crush on the pretty girl: not a chance. Mousy female with a heart of gold: dead for sure. That way, anyone still alive at the end of the movie - bonus! I wasn't expecting them to make it so it's a pleasant surprise. I'm not rooting for them to get killed, but I'm certainly setting my expectations to be prepared for it.
So, going into Game 4 I'm definitely preparing myself for another massacre. All the time hoping that I won't have to see one.
Sherman's reply is coming soon.