Serge Ibaka made a surprise start in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, coming back after being ruled out for the season just a week prior. Even better: Ibaka looked just fine. And after two blowout losses in San Antonio, we saw just what the big man means to the Thunder in OKC's Game 3 win.
Here's that impact in four charts.
1. It got a bit tougher to score in the paint for San Antonio
The story of the first two games was how easy the Spurs had it in the paint, scoring almost at will. Led by Tony Parker, San Antonio attacked a defense without an anchor and turned that into efficient scoring numbers.
With Ibaka on the back line in Game 3, that advantage disappeared. San Antonio shot worse than 50 percent at the rim, with Ibaka racking up four blocks. (That's more than the Thunder had as a team in either of the first two games.)
2. The Spurs aren't hitting 63% of their contested attempts any more
It's not just at the rim where Ibaka's presence mattered on defense. The Thunder defended better all over the court.
In the first two games, the Spurs hit a combined 59-100 (59 percent) on their contested field goal attempts. In Game 3, they hit 22-49 (45 percent). Ibaka, or the lack thereof, was a huge piece of that in all three games. Having a backstop lets defenders challenge jumpers more aggressively, much as San Antonio has done in defending Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
3. Tony Parker did not have a good night
Parker shot 16-29 in the first two games of the series, and 11-15 at the rim. With Ibaka patrolling the paint in Game 3, Parker shot 4-13 overall and 1-6 in the paint. Notably and as discussed above, having the backstop in the game allowed Westbrook to play Parker much more aggressively. Nine of Parker's 13 shots in Game 3 were contested; he shot 2-9 on those.
4. Oklahoma City hit the offensive glass
The Spurs were No. 4 in the NBA in defensive rebounding during the regular season, and they held that up in the first two games of the series. But with Ibaka back, OKC hit the offensive glass hard, picking up 15 o-boards in 40 opportunities. (That included a missed free-throw offensive rebound, rare against San Antonio.)
Ibaka had only two offensive rebounds himself. But attention paid to him, a fine putback artist, freed up space around the glass for his teammates. Durant and Westbrook each had three o-boards.
On Tuesday we'll see if San Antonio has an answer for Ibaka, or if the Thunder's dominance at home continues.