The NBA playoffs had turned ugly for the Oklahoma City Thunder. After the San Antonio Spurs slaughtered the Thunder twice, Oklahoma City had to pray that it had San Antonio right where it wanted, just like in 2012. Of course, with Serge Ibaka seemingly out for the rest of the NBA playoffs, it was a taller order -- at least until Ibaka returned in Game 3 on May 25.
For this one night, rushing Ibaka back into action worked, as the Thunder got on the board in the Western Conference finals with a 106-97 win. For this one night, risking further injury to Ibaka's calf was worth it, as he was 6-of-7 from the floor, racked up 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, and made sure Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn't have to revive the Thunder alone.
Without Ibaka, the Spurs dominated in the paint at San Antonio and ran over the Thunder's defense. In Oklahoma City, it was a different story, as the Spurs shot only 40 percent and were outrebounded by 52-36. Westbrook's 26 points and Durant's 25 points actually weren't wasted, while Manu Ginobili's 23 points in 23 minutes were.
Now that Ibaka is not out of the NBA playoffs after all, and that he made his presence known in Game 3, memories of Willis Reed and the Thunder's 2-0 comeback in the 2012 conference finals over the Spurs are dancing in Oklahoma City's heads. Of course, this presumes that Ibaka can get double digits and block a few shots every other night for the next week.
The Spurs built up such a cushion in Games 1 and 2, Game 3 wasn't as much of a must win for them. After absorbing the blow from Ibaka and seeing that the Thunder couldn't be swept out after all, Game 4 on May 27 will be the true test of where this series can go. If Oklahoma City takes that one as well, then the ghosts of 2012 -- and how San Antonio's one home loss in Game 5 doomed it -- will be out in full force.
The Spurs have collapsed out of the NBA playoffs in improbable ways these last two years, thanks to the Thunder and Miami Heat. Will Ibaka spark a three-peat, or was this merely a last gasp for Oklahoma City?