Thunder thoughts heading into Game 5 against Spurs
MAY 28, 2014 10:43p ET
The Thunder have played Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb and benched long-time starter Thabo Sefolosha.
Now, Ibaka is back, Jackson says he's fine and the Thunder have rallied from the depths of an 0-2 sinkhole to even the series heading into Game 5 Thursday in San Antonio.
There are plenty of storylines. Here are a few thoughts, something to feel good about and something to worry about.
Think about this...
1. Ibaka rules
Sure seems like if the Thunder needed to get Ibaka another day of rest, they could just put a cardboard cutout of him and put him in the lane. Sure, Ibaka wouldn't be as good on offense, but the Spurs are so rattled, even a fake Ibaka might block a shot or two.
This series changed when Ibaka came back in Game 3. He wasn't as good in Game 4, but he was good enough to scare the Spurs who just haven't been the same in the paint. The first two games, the Spurs had 120 points in the paint. The next two games the Spurs had 44 fewer.
"I don't know what it is," Tim Duncan said. "They played well tonight. We need to fix it and go home and try to turn it around."
2. Speaking of Ibaka's presence
Remember when Danny Green was a thing? He was great in Game 2, making seven 3-pointers. But since the return of Ibaka, Green has been absent. Green made one 3-pointer in Game 4 and made two in Game 3. The freedom Ibaka brings to the interior defense for the Thunder has helped on the perimeter.
Meanwhile, even with Sefolosha, who is considered the teams's best perimeter defender, out of the lineup, OKC has benefitted defensively from being more active. Certainly Ibaka helps with that, but Jeremy Lamb has played quality minutes, as has Jackson and Steven Adams.
3. Wonder if Popovich will rest his starters again
Propbably not, but it sure was interesting the Spurs' coach conceded the game even when it was still within reach in the fourth quarter.
I guess the idea was to get ready for Game 5, but now, if something happens and the Spurs drop Game 5 at home, the move at the end of Game 4 will be picked apart a bit more.
Popovich said he didn't really see the point in putting the starters back in, which he really doesn't believe, but is an easy thing to say. The Thunder have lost bigger leads before. Plus, it's the NBA, players are too good. It's hard to keep people from scoring. Twelve points is not a lot.
Not saying the Thunder would have kicked away its fourth quarter lead, but it wasn't going to happen against the Spurs reserves when it mattered most.
Feel good about this:
Defense. Yeah, seems weird to even say it after a game where Durant and Westbrook scored 71 points, but the fact is, both played their best defensive game of the playoffs and it happened to come at the same time.
Overlooked in the Game 4 win was Durant's defense on Kawhi Leonard. Leonard went just 3-of-9 and wasn't able to be a factor offensively. Durant had five rebounds, three steals, a block and five assists. He also didn't turn the ball over in 41 minutes.
Westbrook was sensational on defense. He had five steals, a block and five rebounds and was so active and disruptive it was hard to say anyone in the league could have been better than Westbrook was on Tuesday.
Simply put, Westbrook and Durant are so good offensively, they can slouch off on defense and the team can still win games, but when they are this good on both sides of the ball, no team is better in the league.
But worry about this:
Anyone else waiting on the Spurs to wake up?
The Spurs have shot worse than 40 percent in the past two games â some of that is Ibaka â so you have to figure they'll pick it up at home.
In addition, Ibaka has played amazingly in the last two games, so you might could make the point he's due for a drop-off.
Jackson's health will have a lot to do with how the Thunder react in Game 5. Their urgency level was low in Games 1 and 2, but with Jackson possibly hobbled, the Thunder will be lacking the same athletic push that helped them in OKC.
If Jackson doesnât' start, you could see Lamb or even Sefolosha in the starting lineup. Another switch, means another adjustment, and that's never easy â especially during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK