As if the 2014 NBA playoffs haven't been chock full of enough anxiety, excitement and drama up until now, a pair of injuries have only increased the intensity leading into Game 3 of each series.
With the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat set to take the court on Saturday, the availability of Pacers star Paul George was in question after suffering a concussion in Game 2.
The Pacers received some good news on Saturday and released a statement to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, that George is cleared to return to action:
Under the care of the Indiana Pacers' medical staff, Paul George has spent the past three days engaged in the NBA's Return-to-Participation Exertion Protocol as part of the NBA's Concussion Policy. George remained symptom free after each step of the process. The Pacers staff consulted with Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, the NBA's Director of Concussion Management, throughout George's progress through the protocol and Friday cleared him to return to normal basketball activity.
In the West, the ongoing saga has been in regard to the Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka.
The Thunder are currently in a two-game hole against the San Antonio Spurs and look listless without Ibaka on the court. However, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, that could change soon.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti made this statement: "The abundance of blood and therefore swelling in Serge's calf has reduced substantially and unexpectedly, allowing a level of movement and stability not thought possible after the initial diagnosis."
If Ibaka truly makes it back in the lineup, it figures to be a significant boost for the Thunder going forward.
Taking these injuries into consideration, let's take a look at the updated championship odds and predict how each conference finals series could potentially unfold.
|San Antonio Spurs||10-13|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||20-1|
Championship odds courtesy of VegasInsider.com.
Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat
George is back in action for the Pacers' Game 3 bout against the Heat. Although one question remains: Which version of the small forward will show up?
As the Pacers have been wildly inconsistent as a team, so has George in this series.
George seemed unstoppable in Game 1, bucketing seven-of-13 attempts from the field for a team-high 24 points. In Game 2, however, George only connected on four-of-16 attempts for 14 points due to a clamped-down Heat defense.
Sports Illustrated goes more in depth regarding George's return:
Pacers’ Paul George (concussion) expected to play Game 3 ‘barring complications’ http://t.co/laYWKxSrE1— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) May 23, 2014
Consistency is key here.
Speaking of consistency, that's been the name of the game for LeBron James. He's once again emerged as the unquestioned leader of this Heat team, and his late-game heroics in Game 2 are a testament of that.
Miami rallied against the Pacers in the fourth quarter of Game 2 to snatch a road victory and gain momentum in its favor.
The Heat's Game 2 win shouldn't have come as a surprise given the history of these teams, according to a tweet from ESPN Stats & Info:
Heat and Pacers have alternated wins and losses in 13 games against each other since start of 2013 Eastern Conference Finals— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 24, 2014
That's not a good sign for Indiana, as the team now must face the Heat—a team with a 32-9 home record this season—twice in Miami.
With George in the fold, the remainder of this series should be highly entertaining. However, it will come down to consistency. That's in Miami's favor at this time.
Heat in six
San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Should Ibaka return for Game 3 of this series, the Thunder will be given a much-needed boost on the defensive side of the court.
The Spurs have been absolutely dominating the paint against the Thunder. Over half of the team's points have come from the inside.
ESPN Stats & Info tweeted a very telling statistic regarding Ibaka's presence against the Spurs:
Spurs FG pct in paint vs Thunder this season: Ibaka off court - 65% Ibaka on court - 47%— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 23, 2014
Even if Ibaka does return, will he even be close to 100 percent?
If he's not, his presence on the court will still be a big boost, but his production may not be up to expectations.
Considering how stellar Tim Duncan has been on the interior—along with the impactful outside shooting of Danny Green—Oklahoma City may not have the necessary tools to contain this well-rounded Spurs team—even with Ibaka in the fold.
ESPN Stats & Info really sums it up with this tweet:
Spurs have outscored Thunder by 52 pts thru 2 games, the largest scoring differential in 1st 2 games of a conference finals ever.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 22, 2014
Oklahoma City is already in a very deep two-game hole. Sure, the team has been in this position before against San Antonio—the 2012 conference finals—and was able to emerge victoriously.
This time around, however, the Spurs may be too much for the Thunder to overcome.
If Ibaka does make it back on the court, Oklahoma City could reasonably steal a game—or even two—in this series.
But in the end, it will be the Spurs advancing to the NBA Finals.
Spurs in six