After being in the same situation just two years ago, the Spurs are acutely aware of the challenge they'll face against the angry, frustrated Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Sunday night.
Throw in the possible return of injured Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, who missed the Spurs' blowout wins in the first two games of the series, and it's easy to understand why the guys in silver and black expect the home team to be amped.
They're going to be ready to go, Spurs point guard Tony Parker said Saturday before the team flew to Oklahoma City. We're going to have to be ready to go because we're playing a very good team, and they play very well at home.
Up 2-0 against the Thunder in the 2012 Western Conference finals after holding serve at home, the Silver and Black went to OKC for Game 3 brimming with confidence. Riding the crest of a 20-game winning streak that included a 10-0 start in the playoffs, the Spurs appeared headed to the NBA Finals for the fifth time in their history.
But in sports, as in life, things aren't always as good as they look or as bad as they seem.
The Thunder bounced back with a 20-point win in Game 3 and the Spurs were never the same, losing four straight in one of the worst playoff collapses in NBA playoff history.
We think about it for sure because it happened recently, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. So, hopefully, we learned from that. The bottom line is that they just played better than us in those four games, and they beat us. Hopefully, we play better in OKC, where they beat us in all three games.
Parker also talked about the painful lessons of the 2012 conference finals.
We really haven't talked about it, but obviously you learn from each experience, he said. We learned a lot from that series, because you win 20 games in a row and suddenly you lose four, it's like weird. I think it gave us a lot of experience to take nothing for granted, and we know a series can change really fast.
Parker says Spurs must matchOKC's energy in Game 3
The memories of the 2012 conference finals remain vivid for Spurs forward Tim Duncan.
I've thought about it, so it's there, he said. We understand what can happen.
After winning the first two games of this year's conference finals by 17 and 35 points, the Spurs find themselves staring at another pivotal Game 3 against OKC.
Tipoff for Sunday's game at Chesapeake Energy Arena is at 7:30.
There's going to be a lot of energy, Parker said. Obviously, they're going to play a lot better. They're going to shoot the ball a little bit better, and the bench and all the role players, they're going to play better.
We know we've got to match that. We did pretty good against Portland because we knew Portland was going to come out with a lot of energy and shoot the ball well. We handled it pretty good, so I hope we can do the same thing.
The Spurs took a 2-0 series lead against the Portland Trail Blazers in the conference semifinals and won Game 3 in Portland by 15 points.
The main storyline for Game 3 against the Thunder will be whether Ibaka, who missed the first two games of the series with a calf injury, plays after his status was upgraded to day-to-day Friday.
Parker, who is nursing a strained hamstring himself, has no doubt Ibaka will be on the court Sunday night.
He's going to play, Parker said.
Parker: 'You want to play against the whole team'
OKC announced a week ago Friday that Ibaka, the team's defensive anchor, was expected to miss the remainder of the postseason after straining his left calf in the Thunder's series-clinching win over the Los Angeles Clippers on May 15.
But then came the news that Ibaka's status had been upgraded.
I knew it was coming, Parker said, adding there was no way, Ibaka was going to sit out the entire series.
Parker was skeptical from the get-go when the Thunder initially announced they expected Ibaka to be sidelined for the rest of the playoffs.
I saw they were making fun of us like we were paranoid, Parker said. We look good now, huh? I couldn't believe he would miss the whole playoffs. I just knew he was going to play.
Ibaka has led the NBA in blocked shots each of the last four seasons and he had a memorable performance in OKC's 109-103 win over the Spurs in Game 4 two years ago, hitting 11 of 11 shots and finishing with a then-career high 26 points.
I'm happy he's playing, Parker said. You want to play against the whole team. You want to play against the best. It's the playoffs. You want to play against the best team. That's why we play basketball, to play those kinds of games.
I want Ibaka to play. I want him to be 100 percent. I want the whole team because what's what you want. That's what you compete for.
Parker: Ibaka a 'huge' difference for Thunder's defense
Given the four-day break between Games 2 and 3, Parker said he thinks the Thunder planned to have Ibaka return for Game 3 all along.
They looked at the schedule and said, 'I'm sure we have a pretty good chance he'll be back for Game 3,' Parker said. That's why they didn't bring him to San Antonio (for Games 1 and 2).
Ibaka started in the Thunder s first 13 playoff games, averaging 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 33.9 minutes.
Defensively, he's a huge difference, obviously, Parker said. He blocks shots, and on offense he's a real good shooter from mid-range, and he's a good finisher. Obviously, he's a big part of what they do.
Parker said earlier in the week that he was optimistic his injured hamstring would be back to normal by Game 3.
I feel pretty good, Parker said. The extra days definitely helped, and so hopefully tomorrow I can get my full speed back.
Parker said he was surprised when he saw the four-day gap between Games 2 and 3.
I was like, man, if I can survive the first two games, I'll be OK for the rest of the series, he said.
Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Western Conference finals
(Spurs lead series 2-0)
Game 1: Spurs 122, Thunder 105,Monday
Game 2: Spurs 112, Thunder 77, Wednesday
Game 3: Spurs at Thunder, Sunday, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: Spurs at Thunder, Tuesday, 8p.m.
Game 5, if necessary: Thunder at Spurs, Thursday, 8 p.m.
Game 6, if necessary: Spurs at Thunder, Saturday, May 31, 7:30 p.m.
Game 7, if necessary: Thunder at Spurs, Monday, June 2, 8 p.m.