To all those Spurs fans who wondered why so much was being made of injured Oklahoma Thunder forward Serge Ibaka possibly playing in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals: Now you know what all the fuss was about.
No, Ibaka isn't Bill Russell. Never will be.
Still, the dude is pretty doggone good.
The Spurs certainly would attest to that after Ibaka breathed new life into the Thunder on Sunday, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots in a 106-97 win that cut San Antonio's lead in the series to 2-1.
The Silver and Black won the first two games by 17 and 35 points, but any resemblance between the teams that faced off at the AT&T Center and clashed on Sunday was purely coincidental.
Game 4 is at 8 p.m. Tuesday in OKC, where Ibaka electrified the home crowd Sunday with a performance reminiscent of former New York Knicks great Willie Reed's in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
Nursing a leg injury, Reed limped on the floor at Madison Square Garden during player introductions and then promptly hit his first two shots, sending the Knicks to a 113-99 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Parker must set the tone for the Spurs' offense early
Ibaka, who missed the first two games of the conference finals with a strained left calf, not only played in Game 3, he lifted the Thunder on both ends of the court with his bountiful athletic skills.
So now what?
Well, the Spurs better get on the stick or they're going to be in a heap of trouble.
Tony Parker must set the tone for the Spurs' offense early by being aggressive and playing smart basketball. He had as many turnovers, four, as he had assists in Game 3. That's rarely a winning combination.
The Silver and Black also coulduse another goodperformance from Manu Ginobili, who had a team-high 23 points in Game 3. He hit 5 of 7 shots from the 3-point line in the first two quarters, but scored only three points in the second half.
But while the Spurs' offense sputtered, it was their lack of energy on defense and weak rebounding that doomed them in Game 3. In short, the Silver and Black must toughen up and take the fight to the Thunder, Ibaka or no Ibaka.
This is not uncharted territory for the Spurs. They beat OKC in the first two games of the West finals in San Antonio just two years ago, but the Thunder took Game 3 by 20 in OKC and the series changed.
The Spurs, who had won 20 consecutive games before dropping Game 3, lost four in a row to the Thunder. The Silver and Black's collapse ranks as one of the worst in NBA playoff history.
Series will go seven games if OKC wins Tuesday night
We learned a lot from that series, because you win 20 games in a row and suddenly you lose four, Parker said Saturday before boarding the team's flight to OKC. 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.
With Ibaka back, I think the series is going seven games unless the guys in silver and black can somehow pull out a win Tuesday night. It's not out of the question but, given the lift Ibaka has given his team, it s going to be very difficult to beat the Thunder on their home court.
If the Spurs win Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead, they'll probably close out the series in Game 5 on Thursday. I thought the Spurs would win the series in seven games if Ibaka played, and in six if he didn't.
If you want to talk about a nervous city, think about what the anxiety level in San Antonio will be like if the Spurs come back from OKC with the series tied 2-2.
The Spurs would have to win Game 5 Thursday night at the AT&T Center to deny the Thunder the opportunity to close out the series in OKC, as they did two years ago.
So here we go. Hold on tight, San Antonio. It's going to get bumpy in OKC on Tuesday night, but look for the Spurs to play a lot better than they in Game 3.
One last thing: The Spurs generally go as Parker goes. If he can get to the rim and finish or kick the ball out to open teammates, the Thunder could find itself scrambling on defense Ibaka or no Ibaka.
Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Western Conference finals
(Spurs lead series 2-1)
Game 1: Spurs 122, Thunder 105,Monday
Game 2: Spurs 112, Thunder 77, Wednesday
Game 3: Thunder 106, Spurs 97, Sunday,
Game 4: Spurs at Thunder, Tuesday, 8p.m.
Game 5: 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.