During the Western Conference Finals, J.A. Sherman of Welcome to Loud City and J.R. Wilco of Pounding the Rock will be discussing all things Spurs/Thunder and ThunderSpurs. The first installment is here. The second installment was in two parts, here and here. This is the third installment.
Last night, when was asked about Manu Ginobili leaving the game early in the 4th quarter, Popovich said, "He'll be fine ... Or he's out for the rest of the playoffs. You still gotta have some fun, even if you lose. Come on. It's basketball. Yeah, we wanted to win, but, you know, I want to laugh too."
First, I've been following this team for roughly forever and now Pop tells us that he wants to laugh? Now, after that game?
Second, now that we know that Ibaka isn't just able to play, but he's able to play at a level high enough to change the entire dynamic of the game to the point that the Thunder could arguably be said to be in the driver's seat for the series -- what do you think now about the out for the rest of the playoffs/Ibaka's not coming through that door comments? Think there's any chance that anyone in the entire Thunder organization (besides the players) actually thought Serge wouldn't be back? And if not, do you think it's any kind of serious issue, or just something to joke about like Pop did?
Ah, come on now, we all know that Pop has a dry sense of humor, right???
I don't know if we should look at his quip as anything more than a guy just making a joke and busting on "Sammy" Presti, a colleague and former member of the Spurs organization. Perhaps Pop had been angry at how the Serge Ibaka injury information had been handled, but I didn't get a sense of that at all. I think the old codger saw an opening and went for it. And as an aside, I found his comment refreshing. This wasn't some case of political scandal dissemination or anything; as he said, "It's basketball." There's no need to carry the bad vibes further than need be.
If Pop was discussing the actual contents of the game, well, sometimes you have to laugh about that too, even when your team plays poorly, you don't get the foul calls, the ball doesn't bounce right, etc.
Now, as far as this whole Serge Ibaka imbroglio goes, your guess is as good as mine. All I have to say is, these days in order to make a conspiracy work, you gotta be pretty smart and work along side a lot of smart people to make it happen. I tend to take things at face value; he was injured and it looked bad with lots of swelling. When the swelling went down, Ibaka's calf didn't look as bad as they initially thought. As far as the structural damage goes, I wish I knew more, but likely never will. Did a doctor misdiagnose him? Is there still structural damage that could worsen over time? I agree with one Twitter-er who said during the game, "I don't know if OKC should fire their medical staff...or give them a raise."
Did his teammates know anything? I'd guess not. They're always overly optimistic anyway, and chances are the front office will tell them to shush up or at the very least play it overly conservative. If it was a ruse from above, then that gets to the question of whether any league rules were violated. If they have, I haven't seen any stories that would indicate it.
The real question that matters though is whether Ibaka's performance is repeatable. He looked like he was in serious pain numerous times, especially when landing after blocking a shot. If his performance is repeatable, does this put OKC in the driver's seat? If he gets progressively worse, does the series return to what we saw in games 1&2?
A dry sense of humor is one thing. Playing around during an in-game interview in order to mock the idea of an in-game interview, sure. Going off-topic as a distraction from dealing with the media, ok. Going with single-word answers to keep from revealing strategy, absolutely. Flipping a question back on a reporter to keep from calling out the performance of a player in the press, always and forever.
But admitting that he wants to laugh? That's something else entirely. It's not just a new page in the "How Popovich deals with the media" playbook, it's an entirely different volume altogether. And it makes me think that things might not be quite exactly as they appear. But that's all I'll say about that for now.
As for whether OKC is in the driver's seat now if we assume that Ibaka's performance is repeatable, I'd say they absolutely are when playing at home. That crowd is huge, of course, but all role players play better at home. I expect Game 4 to be very much like Game 3. In fact, my mentality going in to Tuesday's game is the same I have when I watch a horror movie.
Here's how it works. At the beginning of a horror film, as every new character is introduced to the audience, I consider them already dead. Popular jock: won't make it. Nerdy kid with a crush on the pretty girl: not a chance. Mousy female with a heart of gold: dead for sure. That way, anyone still alive at the end of the movie - bonus! I wasn't expecting them to make it so it's a pleasant surprise. I'm not rooting for them to get killed, but I'm certainly setting my expectations to be prepared for it.
So, going into Game 4 I'm definitely preparing myself for another massacre. All the time hoping that I won't have to see one.
I'm sure that Popovich is a fan of Led Zeppelin. "Does anybody remember laughter?" Or maybe Jack Handey. I seriously think you're reading into it a bit much, but I guess that's what being a fan is all about. I just see it as a man who is in his 7th decade of living and he understands that having perspective on life is one of the best ways you can keep on going even when things don't go your way.
I'd hesitate to put OKC in the driver's seat; they still face incredible pressure tonight because a loss renders game 3 (and Ibaka's risky performance) moot. Then again, that's what they faced in 2012, so they understand the stakes at hand. You on the other hand seem like you've decided to vacation at the Cabin in the Woods. I wonder who is pulling the strings??? And which horror movie character is J.R. Wilco?
Here is my hope and concern for tonight. My hope is that the Spurs will have put so much emphasis on Ibaka's play that they will forget that the insertion of Reggie "Spurs Krazee-Eyez Killa" Jackson into the lineup had a radical effect on the contribution of the role players in the lineup. I wouldn't say he had a breakout game per se, but his performance was more in alignment with the regular season, and if he can continue to both find his spots on offense as well as take some of the playmaking pressure off of Westbrook, it adds a tertiary dimension to the Thunder offense that the Spurs have had difficulty with, since it means that Jackson most likely gets your 3rd best perimeter defender on him. I think Jackson is going to be crucial to tonight's outcome.
My concern is twofold. A) OKC did a good job running Danny Green off the 3-point line, but your other 3-point shooters, namely Patty Mills and Marco Bellinelli, have been quiet. If the Spurs work to get those two involved more, it's going to stretch out the Thunder defense even further and could ignite a Spurs offense that only had 80 points about halfway through the 4th. And B) lost in a game that blew open in the 4th is the fact that, as good as OKC played in game 3, it was very nearly a 2 possession game both at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th. There is still not a lot of margin for error.
My big question tonight is, will Durant finally play up to his MVP level? He did it against the aggressive defense of the Grizzlies, but so far his play has been C+/B- at best. If ever there was a time that he will be needed, it is in the pressure of tonight's game.