How quickly things can change.
After two games, it looked like the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers were headed for an intense, back-and-forth series, while the San Antonio Spurs were starting to break out the brooms against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now, just one game later, the scenarios have flip-flopped. Lance Stephenson has brought out the Hulk in LeBron James, and the Heat looked unstoppable during the second half of Game 3. In the West, Serge Ibaka's surprising return has seemingly given the Thunder back the edge.
With the outlook consistently changing, let's take a glance at the updated championship odds, courtesy of VegasInsider.com, as well as a closer look at each series.
NBA Championship Odds
|San Antonio Spurs||20-23|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||18-1|
Vegas Insider, as of May 26, 2014, at 2 a.m. ET
Apparently, LeBron busted out the smack talk during Miami's 99-87 win Saturday, and apparently, that's a sign of weakness. At least that's what Lance Stephenson told reporters, via ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst:
To me, it's a sign of weakness. [People] used to say that to me. I'm going to do something to get you mad. Now he's trying to do it to me. I feel like there's a weakness and I feel like I'm doing something right to get underneath his skin.
Well, if 26 points (on a dangerously efficient 14 field-goal attempts), five rebounds, seven assists and four steals is weak, then I don't want to be strong.
The Pacers actually led by as many as 15 in the first half of Game 3, holding the Heat to a season-low 38 points through the opening 24 minutes. Miami flipped a switch in the second half, though, dominating every aspect of the game en route to the big win.
NBA.com's John Schuhmann put a number on the astronomically good performance:
The Heat scored 61 points on 41 possessions (149 per 100) in the 2nd half.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 25, 2014
The Heat were swarming and disruptive on defense, forcing the Pacers into 19 turnovers. They were fast and precise on offense, shooting 54.4 percent from the field and creating open looks for shooters everywhere on the court—Ray Allen knocked down four three-pointers in the final period, and every single one was uncontested, per Schuhmann.
After the slow start, it was a clinical performance from Miami on both ends of the court. Indiana was sloppy and has room to be better, but it's going to take something special to beat the Heat when they are playing at this unreal level.
Serge Ibaka is back, and so is the intrigue surrounding this series.
The big man surprisingly returned from his "postseason-ending" injury for Game 3 on Sunday, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks to help the Thunder to a 106-97 win. ESPN Stats & Info and NBA.com further noted his massive impact:
#IbakaEffect Spurs shot 67% in paint in Games 1& 2, 48% in Game 3— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 26, 2014
The Spurs averaged 60.0 Points in the Paint over Games 1 & 2. In Game 3? OKC held SAS to just 40 paint points— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 26, 2014
For a team that lost the first two games of the series by a combined 52 points, OKC suddenly looks in remarkably good shape.
As the San Antonio Express-News' Jeff McDonald noted, the Thunder have owned the Spurs with Ibaka in the lineup:
FWIW, OKC has won 11 of 13 over Spurs when Ibaka plays.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) May 26, 2014
The series now hinges on how Ibaka's injury responds overnight and whether or not he is able to remain effective with just one day of rest in between games. If so, he changes everything on both ends of the floor. Not only does he protect the paint defensively, but his mid-range jumper takes pressure off Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Conversely, even with the big man back in the lineup, Tony Parker isn't going to shoot 4-of-13, Kawhi Leonard isn't going to shoot 4-of-11 and Tim Duncan isn't going to shoot 7-of-17, let alone all on the same night. The Spurs still have home-court advantage, and they will be better offensively going forward.
Who wins this series?
As long as Ibaka remains close to healthy, the rest of this series will likely fall somewhere in between Games 2 and 3. With OKC's added quickness and athleticism and San Antonio's execution and ability to adjust appropriately under Pop, there will be no more blowout city. This series is going to be a war.