Manu Ginobili predicted in the days leading up to Game 3 that his team wouldn’t make as many shots, that their team would attack more, that they would play harder, that they would go to the foul line more and that it would be, well, tougher.
Wonder if Manu is picking California Chrome at Belmont?
As for Game 3, Ginobili was spot on. The Thunder rolled through the Spurs and turned the Western Conference finals back into a series. The two blowouts in San Antonio will be largely forgotten if Oklahoma City protects its home court Tuesday night and knots it up 2-2.
The obvious story Sunday night, and rightfully so, was the impact Serge Ibaka had in his return to the playoffs. The Spurs acknowledged as much. You can’t ignore 15 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and an arena’s worth of inspiration.
"He played great," Tim Duncan said. "I think overall their entire team played better. Obviously at home they used their energy, his return and all of that and they put us on our heels.
"We didn’t respond well. We turned the ball over too many times. Their energy and their defense picked up, and obviously, like I said, Ibaka played really well."
But the Spurs did their part in contributing to the 106-97 loss that wasn’t as close as the final score. San Antonio shot less than 40 percent after shooting at least 50 percent in each of the first two games. Oklahoma City got to the foul line nearly twice as much. The Spurs were outscored in the paint for the first time after enjoying a 46-point edge inside in SA.
What the box score doesn’t readily show is want. OKC wanted it more. Popovich noted the rebound deficit (52-36) and seemingly every 50-50 ball going the Thunder’s way. The Spurs let a chance to put the series out of the reach slip through their fingers.
"It was a combination of things," Ginobili said. "They really needed this game. They knew that nobody came back from a 3 0, and they brought all the emotion."
Duncan added: "I don’t know exactly what it was, honestly. I think we were making too many mistakes. Not only defensively, but we were turning the ball over, playing into the crowd too much, and we were fouling people and putting them on the line. A combination of all those things just made it all look bad."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called the first half "probably the poorest defense we’ve played in a very long time." The Thunder had 67 points at the break.
"It was a miracle it was a one point game with 40 seconds to go in the first half from my perspective," he added. "The only thing that kept us in the game was Manu made those 3s."
While the Spurs heaped praise on Ibaka, they can’t help but look at themselves. Tony Parker had a miserable night. His stretch of three turnovers in the second quarter helped the Thunder gain some separation going into the half.
"It’s not just him," Parker said of Ibaka. "They played well and we didn’t take care of the ball. It starts with me, as a point guard I need to play better. I missed some easy stuff today."
The Spurs 2-1 series lead doesn’t appear as safe considering they’re 0-5 against Ibaka this season. Oh, there’s also Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to contend with, plus new starter Reggie Jackson.
But more than worry about the other guys, the Spurs have always been about what they do. That’s the lesson from Game 3 they hope carries over for Tuesday night.
"Hopefully we realize that if we’re not intense, if we’re not very sharp and we hustle like crazy, we’re not going to win here," Ginobili said. "There are a few things that we’ve got to do better. Maybe we thought that it was okay and we were going to win here playing so so. It’s not going to happen. They showed us the reality, and hopefully we react for Game 4 and we play a much better game."