Serge and Mr. OKCtober Accept Challenge
The return of Serge Ibaka from his calf injury was huge, however after watching the Thunder get throttled in the paint in the first two games of the series, one could have expected Ibaka’s presence would be key. While not downplaying his defense or the extra efficient scoring he gave the Thunder in Game 3, the big factor for the Thunder in Game 3 was the insertion of Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup.
Not only did it affect the Spurs’ defense of helping off that position, (formally manned by the offensively inept Thabo Sefolosha) but also Jackson gave them a credible shooting threat, and a nice boost offensively from the other guard position. Jackson and Ibaka both had 15 points, and it was enough to give the Thunder the push they needed on the offensive end.
Despite the last two games basically being blowouts, the totals for both have gone 'under'. Blowout games are almost always a god 'over' value, but in these cases, the 'under' has been the play. Even if Game 4 is a bit more competitive, I think we could see the 'under' cash for a third straight game in the Western Conference Finals. With Ibaka’s return to the court, it completely changes the Thunder’s defensive upside, and even though Jackson starting in front of Sefolosha hurts the Thunder defense, it didn’t seem to matter much in Game 3.
After Scott Brooks won that round of adjustments, like I’ve said before, Gregg Popovich is the master of adjustments. The question is which way will he go. Will he focus more on defending Jackson and Ibaka more, or will he still try and make those guys beat him? I think it will be a combination of the two, but one adjustment we might see is Boris Diaw coming into the starting lineup. Diaw didn’t shoot the ball well in Game 3, but he had six assists and six rebounds in only 21 minutes.
Diaw has started when Tiago Splitter has been out, and with Brooks leaving Steven Adams to come off the bench, it might be a good idea to see if Diaw can take advantage of Kendrick Perkins with his quickness and shooting while Perkins is in the game. Once Adams comes in, Diaw can either cede to Splitter, or continue to pull Adams away from the basket. Adams had a great Game 3 with nine rebounds and four blocks, so either way, Diaw’s minutes might be increased some in Game 4.
The Sharp Pick
The Thunder defense will still be good in Game 4 at home, and even if the Spurs try something new in their rotation, I think the 'under' is the NBA pick here. The 'under' has now cashed in the last two games in this series and in three of the last four times they have played one another. As this series goes on, the defense should get better and better, and with more on the line tonight, look for the 'under' to be the play.
I’m seeing a final score of around 104-101, and if the Thunder show up on defense again, the NBA Odds of 207 ½ are just a few points too high. Take the 'under' in your NBA picks.
My NBA Pick: 'Under' 207 ½