NBA Betting: Return Of Serge Ibaka Changes Western Conference Finals
by Bovada Sportsbook Staff | May 26, 2014
There can be no argument that Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the Top-10 players in the NBA, maybe Top 5. The former is the league MVP and probably the best pure scorer in the NBA since Michael Jordan. Yet it’s also fair to say that Serge Ibaka is the most important player on the Thunder.
You won’t win an NBA title simply as a jump-shooting, no defense team. That what’s the Thunder were for the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, predictably losing both (and failing to cover). Ibaka was supposedly ruled out for the rest of the postseason with a calf injury suffered in the clinching win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Spurs were never buying it, and there Ibaka was in Game 3. Not quite a Willis Reed moment but clearly a boost to the Thunder. They won 106-97. Ibaka had 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 30 minutes. He contested several other shots that he didn’t get his hands on.
Don’t think he made a difference? The Spurs scored 122 and 112 points in their first two blowout wins, shooting a combined 53.8 percent from the field. They averaged 60 points in the paint in those two. In Game 3, the Spurs were 36-for-91 from the field (39.6 percent) and had 40 points in the paint. The 12 previous games with Ibaka playing, the Spurs averaged 40.3 points in the paint.
"Words can’t describe it," teammate Caron Butler said. "In my career I have been part of a lot of great moments in basketball history. And that was a special one right there."
Entering Game 3, the Thunder were NBA betting long shots to win the title at +1000. That victory jumped them to +750, with San Antonio now
a co-favorite at +110 with Miami to win it all. The Thunder are 2.5-point favorites with a total of 207.5 for Tuesday’s Game 4, which will have live betting.
Ibaka wasn’t the only change for Game 3, so expect Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to make his own adjustments. In the first two games, guard Thabo Sefolosha and forward Nick Collison started for OKC. Sefolosha has all season when healthy, while Collison was an Ibaka replacement. Those two were all but invisible in those first two games. Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who some believe might be fired if the team loses this series, started guard and usual sixth man Reggie Jackson in Game 3. He had 15 points, five assists and four rebounds in 37 minutes, all series highs for him. Sefolosha and Collison didn’t play a minute. Jeremy Lamb hadn’t left the bench in weeks but got 17 minutes and scored six points. Rookie Steven Adams took most of Collison’s backup minutes (with Ibaka healthy) and had seven points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
Meanwhile, Spurs point guard Tony Parker had a lousy game after getting to the rim with ease in the first two matchups. He was plus-44 combined in Games 1 and 2 but minus-12 in Game 3. He finished with nine points and had as many turnovers (four) as assists (four).
There could now be flashbacks to the 2012 West Finals for both teams. The Spurs won the first two games of that handily but then lost the next four to Oklahoma City. Plus the Thunder are now 5-0 this season against San Antonio with Ibaka in the lineup. The Thunder are allowing 93.0 points per 100 possessions against the Spurs this season with Ibaka on the court. When he’s not, they have been outscored by 44 points and they are giving up 122.6 points per 100.
Expect some subtle jabbing from Popovich toward the referees before Game 4. The Thunder attempted 31 free throws in Game 3 (making 26) while the Spurs had only 16 (making 15). In the third quarter OKC had 22 free-throw attempts to zero for San Antonio, an NBA record for the largest disparity in a single quarter. Those types of things tend to even out.