So, by now, we've all had a chance to soak in Ibaka's impact on Game 3. The consensus among most analysts seems to be that he was a major catalyst in the victory, contributing significantly on both sides of the floor. The stats don't directly back that up, because the Spurs shot better when Ibaka was on the floor (40.7%) than when he was off it (37.5%). In addition, the Spurs shot the same percentage in the restricted area, regardless of whether Ibaka was on the floor or not. If that's not enough evidence, consider that the Spurs were only slightly less aggressive with Ibaka on the floor.
I'm not trying to discount what Serge did. He deserves 100% of the credit for coming back from a dangerous injury to put his well-being on the line for the team. And if you want to find out more about Serge's contributions, there's a number of wonderful articles out there that illustrate his impact. But one player doesn't account for a 40 point swing, and I think it's important to focus on the non-Ibaka factors that played a big role in this victory. Here they are, in no particular order.
Danny Green had to put the ball on the floor
I can't believe that everyone's suddenly forgotten Danny Green's 21 point performance in Game 2, where he went 7 of 10 from three. You could credit Ibaka for tightening up the paint, thus freeing the Thunder's guards to focus on the perimeter. But really, Green's poor percentage was moreso a result of improved defense from Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler. Jackson guarded Green for the majority of the game, making his mark by chasing Green off the three point line. As a result, Green was forced to take contested threes or awkward twos after nailing a couple of shots in the early minutes. By the time Butler came on to guard Green in the third, he knew that all he had to do was guard a specific area.
The Spurs were 33% on uncontested shots (H/T: The Starters)
There's not much I can do to explain why the Spurs were missing shots, but they were. As a whole, the team was dropping a bunch of especially easy mid-range looks (including a few missed Duncan jumpers). The missed shots do generate a problem for the Spurs though, because the Thunder are excellent at striking quickly off of live rebounds. Basically, the more shots you miss, the more likely the Thunder are to run you ragged and get easy looking points off of simplistic plays. The Spurs can fall into this trap easier than a team like the Grizzlies, because they're not as good at forcing their own pace. Still, I wouldn't expect it to happen on a regular basis.
Patty Mills hit a three, but was called for a offensive foul
This one's big because of the moment in which it occurred. Had the three been counted, the Spurs would have only been down by 6 with 10:45 to go in the fourth. Instead, the three wasn't counted, Patty Mills was called for a foul, and the Thunder went on a quick 5-0 run. It's true that the Spurs made their own bed after that play, but momentum means a lot in basketball. And whatever you might think about the intentions of either player, that call was highly questionable.
Getting into the bonus with 6:43 to go in the third (H/T: PtR)
It's no secret that the Thunder sometimes live at the line, especially when things go sour. OKC isn't as reliant on foul calls as they used to be, but they still do tend to struggle against teams that don't foul. San Antonio regularly ranks near the top of the league as one of the teams least likely to foul, so it makes sense that the Thunder weren't able to get to the line very often in Games 1 and 2. But the Thunder pushed the pace extremely well in the third, and forced the Spurs to commit three panic fouls just to stop easy shots. That combined with a couple of well-timed drives gave the Thunder the five fouls they needed. San Antonio would end up committing 4 non-shooting fouls against OKC for the rest of the quarter, sending them to the line 8 times and gifting them 5 points.
Jeremy Lamb played over Thabo Sefolosha
It's hard to say why Jeremy Lamb played big minutes after all this time. I mean, his name has been mentioned for weeks as a potential solution to our problems, and I felt like a broken record every time I mentioned him. But yesterday's game was a source of great vindication, as he managed to score 6 points on 3 of 5 shooting. Only 4 of those points were relevant, but they came during a difficult stretch of the early second. Lamb's run wasn't extremely impressive by anyone's account, simply because Manu exploded on him for a run in the late second. But one might believe that Manu could have done the same against Thabo, and Lamb's athleticism and threat as a weak-side player definitely made an impact on how the Spurs played ball. Still, those hoping for future Lamb appearances shouldn't hold their breath. Lamb apparently may have only come in due to a cut on Derek Fisher's head, and he didn't see a return to action in crunch time.
Tony Parker couldn't haul the mail
Russell Westbrook didn't have the greatest game. But his ridiculous shots at the end of the half, ability to get to the line, and key steals really saved his night. Tony Parker had no such saving graces. Much as he did in Game 3 of the 2012 series, Parker underwent an epic collapse tonight. He was committing uncharacteristically bad turnovers at key times, he kept getting stuck in traps, and he couldn't seem to nail any of his floaters. His final line of 9 points, 4-13 shooting, no free throws, and 4 assists to 4 turnovers pretty much tells the whole story. But he was especially bad in the second and third, as he tried to do too much on his own and overcompensated at times.
The Thunder won the battle of the boards, 52-36 (15-11 offensive)
When you put Ibaka in for Collison, it's a given that your team will be better at rebounding. But, again, it's not a given that your team will be this much better. KD and Lamb in particular made a nice effort to clean up the glass when the Thunder went small with Adams during the second quarter, allowing no offensive rebounds during that stretch. I'd describe it further, but I'd have to compliment the game of he-who-shall-not-be-named-in-this-article.
Russell Westbrook scored 10 Points in 2:21, and went 7-11 after a 1-8 start
Reggie Jackson had his best game of the series (Via J.A. Sherman):
He looked entirely comfortable attacking the rim against the Spurs' secondary perimeter players such as Patty Mills, often times toying with the defense as he worked inside and outside, looking for seams to exploit. I believe that his presence also had a calming effect on Westbrook in the 2nd half. Russ was a bit wild in the first half before draining back to back 3-pointers to close out the 2nd quarter, but settled in and began to work the angles to his advantage in the 3rd, scoring 10 points. With Jackson able to handle point duties and being fully capable of setting up teammates, it is as if Westbrook feels less pressure to be a Mr. Everything on each possession and as a result slows down and makes better reads.
What other reasons did the Spurs lose this one? How big of a role did you think Ibaka played? Let us know in the comments!