Following two blowout home-court wins, the San Antonio Spurs finally looked human during a mediocre performance in Sunday's 106-97 Game 3 loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Manu Ginobili—one of the few Spurs who continued to play extremely well—noted that San Antonio couldn’t afford to get comfortable despite their early dominance.
“Maybe we thought we were OK or we’re going to win here playing so-so, but it’s not going to happen,” the shooting guard said, per the San Antonio Express-News’ Dan McCarney. “They showed us the reality, and hopefully we play much better in Game 4.”
After shooting 50 percent or better from the field during Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs were anemic offensively in Game 3. Despite a 23-point outburst from Ginobili—in which he drained six of nine three-point attempts—Gregg Popovich’s crew shot a paltry 39.6 percent.
OKC was spurred on (excuse the pun) by the valiant return of Serge Ibaka. The renowned shot-blocker was initially ruled out for the playoffs due to a calf injury. But after having his status upgraded to “day-to-day” on Friday, per USA Today’s Sam Amick, the power forward managed to come back and thrive.
Ibaka exploded out of the starting gate like California Chrome—if the Triple Crown hopeful sported a noticeable limp in his gait.
The 24-year-old finished the first quarter with eight points on 4-of-4 shooting to accompany three rebounds. In 30 minutes of action—an amount that seemed impossible mere days ago—Ibaka notched 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
While the offensive spark was huge for Oklahoma City, his defensive impact was far more important, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out via Twitter:
#IbakaEffect Spurs shot 67% in paint in Games 1& 2, 48% in Game 3— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 26, 2014
Scoring didn’t look so easy for San Antonio throughout Game 3. Tony Parker was 4-of-13 for nine points. Tim Duncan shot 41.2 percent. The tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green finished 7-of-23 (30.4 percent).
As Ginobili pointed out, the Spurs can’t play this far below optimum efficiency and expect to keep winning.
NBA teams that go up 2-0 in a seven-game series move on 94 percent of the time, per ESPN Stats & Info. The Spurs are no strangers to the six percent, though, because they blew a 2-0 lead in the 2012 WCF—against the Thunder.
If San Antonio doesn’t make adjustments to overcome Ibaka’s interior presence, history just might repeat itself.