After the opening two games of the Western Conference Finals, it appeared that the San Antonio Spurs will cruise and easily win this best-of-seven series. But after a convincing 106-to-97 win in Game 3 and with the return of Serge Ibaka, the Oklahoma City Thunder are back in the thick of things and have a chance to tie the series on Tuesday night.
The Spurs took Game 1 (122-105) and Game 2 (112-77) rather convincingly but the Thunder showed a sense of urgency on both ends of the floor on Sunday winning the battle of the boards—56-to-32 rebounding advantage for OKC—and holding the Spurs to just 39.6 per cent shooting (36-of-91 field goals).
Credit goes to the presence of the Spanish big man Ibaka, who blocked 4 shots and distracted other attempts in the paint. Without him, the Spurs feasted on the Thunder in the paint in the first two games. For Game 3, OKC had a 46-to-40 advantage inside as the likes of Tony Parker (9 points, 4-of-13 FG) and Kawhi Leonard (10 points, 4-of-11 FG) hesitated to attack the hoop.
On offense, Ibaka contributed with 15 points (6-of-7 FG) but it was the usual dynamic duo of Kevin Durant (25 points plus 10 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (26 points and 7 assists) who carried the bulk of the scoring load for the Thunder.
Betting Lines: San Antonio Spurs (+2.5) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (Over/Under: 207.5) *All odds are correct as of time posting via covers.com Game time: 11:00 am AEDT
Betting Against the Spread (ATS)
San Antonio Spurs Trends - The Spurs are 7-2 ATS in their last 9 games - The Spurs are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games after a one-day rest - The Spurs are 1-6 ATS in their last 7 games on the road
Oklahoma City Thunder Trends - The Thunder are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games in the conference finals - The Thunder are 11-3-1 ATS in their last 15 games vs. the Spurs - The Thunder are 8-0 ATS in their last 8 games vs. the Spurs in Oklahoma City
Why the Thunder Will Win Game 4
As seen in the previous game, the Thunder are a different animal with a complete line-up. With Ibaka on the floor, they space their offense more effectively with the threat of a mid-range make from the big man. More importantly, he’s an intimidator down low.
Ibaka is not 100% by any means, but his presence on the floor means that his teammates won’t hesitate in closing out on the Spurs’ shooters because they won’t have to worry about leaving the paint because they have an effective defensive big man there.
The status of that calf injury will decide this game (and virtually, OKC’s chance to win the series) — how healthy will Ibaka be in Game 4? On offense, he won’t shoot the lights out again like in Game 3 but will be a threat nonetheless. On defense, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will make his adjustments and find ways to tire out Ibaka (and test that calf). Plus Parker or Leonard or both won’t play as bad after their last game’s stinker.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 101, San Antonio Spurs 95 – OKC wins in a close affair IF (and that’s a big if) Ibaka is healthy. Should the big man get hurt or see minimal minutes (somewhere below 24 minutes) the Spurs will take advantage and steal this road game to grab the commanding 3-to-1 series lead.