Game 3 grades: The Return of Serge Ibaka

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder got some much-needed support from guys not named Westbrook and Durant, none more than from Serge Ibaka, whose return from injury may have changed this entire series.

Just about everyone was ready to write off the Thunder after Games 1 & 2. The role players weren't playing well. Durant and Westbrook weren't even playing all that well, and Serge Ibaka wasn't walking through that door. Then, somehow or another, he did walk through that door, and gave a truly inspired performance. Maybe it actually was that simple all along, and having Ibaka back restored order. Here's how the entire Thunder team graded out, along with Ibaka himself.

Joining me today is Chris Hanneke.

***

Durant_medium

KEVIN DURANT GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game stats)
36 25 10 3 1 1 4 +19
JUAN Grade_aminus_medium
Even in a game where Kevin Durant wasn't hitting his shots, he still led the team in +/- with a +19. Durant rebounded the ball exceptionally well, and despite his off shooting, he still put up 25 points on the board -- that's pretty good.
CHRIS Grade_aminus_medium
What should be noted is how much more intent Durant seemed on rebounding last night. He pulled in 10, and watching some of them, it was a matter of Durant really fighting and ensuring the Thunder didn't allow second-chance opportunities. The Thunder as whole dominated the boards, 52-36, and it was another example of the increased toughness they needed to take a must-win Game 3. He missed some open threes, and he still hasn't had the monster KD game we all know is coming, but these quiet 25-10 nights are exactly what make him such a weapon.

Westbrook_medium

RUSSELL WESTBROOK GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game stats)
36 26 8 7 1 3 5 +15
JUAN Grade_a_medium
Much like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook struggled to find his jump-shot all night, but that didn't affect his aggressiveness on both ends of the court. Westbrook had 4 steals and had a pretty nice recovery block on a Tony Parker jump-shot. Westbrook won the battle of point guards on Sunday night.
CHRIS Grade_aminus_medium
The least surprising part of last night's game was Westbrook's stellar finish after a rough start. After struggling with his shot for basically the entire first half, Westbrook closed by scoring the team's final 10 points before the break. Spurs Twitter was having a field day jumping all over Westbrook, but anyone that has followed the Thunder saw the outburst coming. Tony Parker struggled and found himself on the bench at the end of the half. Russell Westbrook struggled and scored his team's final 10 points in the half. He made seven of his last 11 shots after starting 1-for-8. The lesson, as always, #LetWestbrookBeWestbrook
Sefolosha_medium

THABO SEFOLOSHA GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game stats)
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
JUAN Grade_c_medium
Thabo Sefolosha got a DNP-CD, which doesn't happen often, but the Thunder won so there is no questioning the move.
CHRIS Grade_c_medium
I do think Thabo could play a role in a potential Finals series, should the Thunder come back and make it that far. But it's hard to see him having a role on this team after this season. Nothing against the guy, who has been such an integral part of what OKC has built. That's just the way these things go.

Ibaka_medium

SERGE IBAKA GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game Stats)
30 15 7 0 4 1 1 +11
JUAN Grade_aplusplus_medium
HE'S BACK! That alone would have gotten him an 'A+' but with his performance, that gets him the ultimate grade. Ibaka secured the paint all night and was as efficient as you can get offensively. I should also add that when Ibaka went back to the locker room late in the third quarter, I cried a bit.
CHRIS Grade_aplusplus_medium
We created the A++ rating after Reggie Jackson's emotional, season-saving Game 4 against Memphis. Well, Ibaka's performance had that same impact, if not even moreso. The crazy thing is, his numbers are right in line with his season averages: 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks (a bit higher, but alas), they don't jump off the page. Obviously, though, to anyone watching, it was his impact on everything else beyond those numbers. Time and again, Spurs players were forced to either take more difficult floaters or swing the ball back out to the perimeter. More than all of that, it was the confidence that came with having Serge back. Guys could gamble on the perimeter, they could curl around screens more aggressively, always knowing they had Ibaka there as a safety valve. Losing Westbrook made everyone appreciate him that much more, and the same is true with Ibaka. It's a shame that's what it takes, but good for him for finally getting proper recognition.
Perk_medium

KENDRICK PERKINS GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game Stats)
14 4 3 0 0 0 3 +5
JUAN Grade_cplus_medium
4 fouls in 13 minutes for Kendrick Perkins -- that's what I like to see.
CHRIS Grade_cminus_medium
I will defend Perkins' role on this team any day of the week, but with this particular series (and Miami, if it comes to that) it's one of those deals where Perkins getting himself in foul trouble isn't exactly the end of the world. Still like him for his toughness at points, but yeah, they didn't really miss him in this one while he sat because of foul trouble.

Jackson_medium

REGGIE JACKSON GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game Stats)
37 15 4 5 0 1 3 +17
JUAN Grade_a_medium
Reggie Jackson is in the starting lineup and I'm sure we can all agree that he isn't going anywhere now. I think Ibaka's return sparked this team, but Jackson's play was just as important. Spurs killer is ready to kill!
CHRIS Grade_a_medium
Since everyone else always wants to bring up the James Harden stuff, I'll play. On a night when the Ibaka over Harden choice (not that that was really the case but still, play along) was vindicated, Jackson did his best Harden impersonation. That is, he played the steady hand to Westbrook's wild side, calmly taking what the defense gave him with crafty drives to the rim, open perimeter shots, smart passes, and always seeming in control. It's been pretty obvious for some time now that Jackson is the team's fourth-best player, so having him a role where he could thrive with the Top 3 only makes the Thunder that much more dangerous.
Lamb_medium
JEREMY LAMB GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game Stats)
17 6 3 0 0 0 0 -7
JUAN Grade_b_medium
With Reggie Jackson moving into the starting lineup, Scott Brooks called on Jeremy Lamb for instant scoring off the bench and he played pretty well in that second quarter. He also got some garbage time minutes, but Lamb is going to be an important piece for the rest of this series.
CHRIS Grade_aminus_medium
It's not really clear whether he got those first-half minutes because he deserved them, or because Derek Fisher's head was bleeding. Either way, he was great. The Thunder's biggest advantage in this series is their athleticism, and he is as athletic as anyone on the team (check how he soars for rebounds). He definitely has value in this series, hopefully it doesn't take Derek Fisher bleeding for Brooks to utilize it.

Adams_medium

STEVEN ADAMS GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game Stats)
28 7 3 0 4 0 1 +12
JUAN Grade_a_medium
Steven Adams was phenomenal, in my opinion. He sent back 4 shots and added 9 rebounds to his game. Kiwi Strong was in full force in game three.
CHRIS Grade_a_medium
The focus is right now, of course, but the future of Ibaka/Adams swatting away interior shots, and being reliable weapons on the offensive end, is such a terrifying thought for the rest of the league. His shot-blocking looks even better when he has Ibaka by his side and he can gamble more. Can't believe this dude is only 20 years old and having this much of an impact.
Collison_medium

NICK COLLISON GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game Stats)
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
JUAN Grade_c_medium
With the return of Serge, Nick Collison went back to his non-playing days. One thing we know for sure is, he'll always be ready to step in and play.
CHRIS Grade_c_medium
It's weird that we're at a point where Sefolosha and Collison not only didn't play, but are kind of unnecessary altogether. I feel like Bert Cooper watching the entire world change around me.

Butler_medium

CARON BUTLER GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game Stats)
20 5 3 1 0 0 0 -3
JUAN Grade_cplus_medium
Caron Butler knocked up 20 minutes, but I felt like it was a good number last night. He ultimately hit the three that seemed to be the dagger, when he put the Thunder up 14 in the fourth quarter.
CHRIS Grade_b_medium
Didn't play too many minutes, had active hands on defense (tipped at least one pass that I can remember) and dialed up the dagger long-distance 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. This is how Butler should be used, and he played the role nicely.

Fisher_medium

DEREK FISHER GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game Stats)
18 3 5 1 0 0 0 -2
JUAN Grade_cminus_medium
Maybe Derek Fisher was thinking about the Knicks coaching job last night and that's why he missed so many shots?
CHRIS Grade_cminus_medium
Scott Brooks coached such a great game that he left Derek Fisher out there in the second half - instead of Lamb, who had a strong first half - just to give us all something to complain about today.

Jones_medium

PERRY JONES III GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game Stats)
4 0 0 0 0 0 0 -11
JUAN Grade_c_medium
Perry Jones had some garbage time minutes, and well, all he did was foul people relentlessly.
CHRIS Grade_cminus_medium
Perry Jones garbage time minutes: fine. Perry Jones not dunking in those garbage time minutes: not fine.

Thabeet_medium

HASHEEM THABEET GRADE MIN PTS REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Game Stats)
4 0 0 0 0 0 0 -11
JUAN Grade_c_medium
There's two parts to Hasheem Thabeet's grade. The 'C' is for his garbage time play and the 'A++' is the grade for this amazing vine. You're the king celebrator, Heem.
CHRIS Grade_a_medium
Yeah I don't even care about the garbage time minutes, Juan, that Vine is EVERYTHING.

Brooks_medium

SCOTT BROOKS Coaching Grade
JUAN Grade_a_medium
It took a couple of blowout losses, but Scott Brooks finally made some adjustments. He inserted Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup and is slowly incorporating Jeremy Lamb as the first scorer off the bench. I think this is the rotation that gives the Thunder the best shot at this series and even though the Thunder are down 2-1, you just get the feeling that this series is just starting. Oh, and the return of Serge Ibaka makes Brooks' job a lot easier.
CHRIS Grade_aminus_medium
Brooks deserves a ton of credit for this one. He started Jackson, he rode Lamb while he was playing well, he, like, coached and stuff. Aside from the fact that he still found a way to have Butler and Fisher on the floor at the same time, neutralizing the athletic advantage OKC most desperately needs to utilize. And also aside from how left Ibaka out there for three minutes too long after the game was already decided. Man, this Brooks section always turns into complaining about something. Nevermind, good work, Scott.

Thunder_medium

TEAM GRADE GRADE FG% 3P% AST REB BL ST TO
(Advanced Stats)
45.7 27.3 17 52 10 7 18
JUAN Grade_aplus_medium
It was a must-win situation for the Thunder and they responded really nicely. Serge Ibaka returned to the lineup, but everybody stepped up. Durant and Westbrook had off-shooting nights, but his teammates picked up some of the slack. Steven Adams and Reggie Jackson had great games, as did Ibaka and Jeremy Lamb. The Thunder are facing another must-win on Tuesday night and we could only hope they play as good, if not better than how they did on Sunday.
CHRIS Grade_aplus_medium
It's becoming the theme of this postseason that the more desperate the situation, the better the Thunder play. It's taking its toll on our fingernails, and probably our hair color, but they're getting it done when they need to. All this does is ensures a Game 5, because Game 4 is still just as much of a must-win as Game 3. But Serge is back, the Thunder looks like the Thunder again, and we've got a series on our hands.

*All player images via US Presswire

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