The Oklahoma City
Thunder Can Win Because…
Ibaka has made all of the difference. The Thunder had been scuffling without their big man in the first two games. They didn’t have rim protection, which meant that Tony Parker could get the basket at will and Tim Duncan and company were there to clean up any misses. It also impacted the Thunder’s perimeter defense as guys like Russell Westbrook were unable to be as effective. With Ibaka back, the perimeter defenders can take more chances.
Offensively, the Thunder have been on fire in the last two games. They’re playing with a ton of confidence and superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are carrying the load. The Spurs don’t have anyone that can elevate to that level, so if the Thunder stars keep it up this level of play, they’ll steal Game 5 and easily cover for our NBA picks.
This is a really bad matchup for the Spurs. We knew that coming into the series. The injury to Ibaka tilted the scales in the Spurs favor for a little bit but with him back in the lineup, the Spurs don’t have the athleticism or youth to keep up.
The San Antonio
Spurs Can Win Because…
They’re back at home. Home-court advantage is critical in this series and the Spurs are back at the Alamadome tonight where they are 2-0 in this series and were 32-9 this season.
The Spurs need to get more out of Tony Parker and he’s likely to produce now that he’s back in front of the home audience. He was deterred from the rim the last couple of games by the return of Ibaka, not even shooting a single free throw, but expect head coach Gregg Poppovich to find ways for him to get to the basket. Parker isn’t the only player that the Spurs need more out of. Look for guys like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard to perform better now that the crowd is on their side.
Lastly, keep an eye on the injury to Thunder guard Reggie Jackson. He was a surprise starter in Games 3 and 4 as Thabo Sefolosha was benched. Jackson has a badly sprained ankle and while he says he’ll play in Game 5, don’t be surprised if he’s ineffective or slowed by the injury. Advantage Spurs.
Outlook & Pick
With Ibaka in the lineup, the Spurs don’t have answers. They were swept by the Thunder in the regular season and we saw what the series looks like in Games 3 and 4 when the Thunder are at full strength. At the very least, the Thunder are a good choice for your NBA picks on the spread but don’t be surprised if they end up with the win outright. Don’t expect a Spurs blowout as we saw in Games 1 and 2.