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Serge Ibaka
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Serge Ibaka
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

After being dominated in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder finally showed some signs of life.

Few wanted to give the Thunder much of a chance in the series after the San Antonio Spurs thoroughly overmatched them in Game 1 and then Game 2. However, Oklahoma City avoided a 3-0 series deficit by winning Game 3 at home, 106-97. Trailing 2-1, the jury is still out on if they can truly make a series of this. For one night, though, things went their way.

The game was won in part to the return of starting power forward Serge Ibaka, who had been rumored to come back in the series. Ibaka’s presence makes the Thunder an entirely different team on both offense and defense. Many will attribute Oklahoma City’s win to his return and while his efficient 15 points (on 6-of-7 shooting) and seven rebounds certainly were a big reason for the victory, there were other factors at play, too.

Overall, the Thunder just looked like a more desperate team.

For starters, they crushed San Antonio on the boards. Ibaka grabbed seven rebounds on his own, but Oklahoma City also got good efforts from Kevin Durant (ten rebounds), Steven Adams (nine), and Russell Westbrook (eight). In winning the rebound battle 52-36, the Thunder gave themselves a great chance to win the game. Heading into Game 3, OKC was at -18 on the glass over the first two games and it was the first time all series they turned in a serious effort.

They were also far more aggressive in getting to the basket. On the night, the Thunder got nearly twice as many free throws as their counterparts. The Spurs were practically automatic once they got there, making 15 of their 16 attempts. Getting doubled up on attempts, though, just makes it very difficult to win and Oklahoma City’s persistence paid off.

San Antonio also had one of their worst shooting nights of the playoffs. Part of it was due to the Thunder defense, but the Spurs turned in some awful individual performances, to be honest. Tony Parker was only 4-f0r-13. Danny Green, who was coming off of two red-hot games, was only 3-for-12. Kawhi Leonard was 4-for-11 and Boris Diaw was only 3-for-10. Even Tim Duncan‘s 7-of-17 night was below average. All in all, the team just didn’t shoot very well and not much was falling.

None of that is to downplay Ibaka’s return all that much. Even the comfort of having him back combined with playing at home certainly made it easier for Oklahoma City to play well. His return wasn’t the only difference in the game, though.