By Charles Jay
For the Oklahoma City Thunder, it has been a dramatic turnaround that has allowed this second-seeded team in the Western Conference to draw even in this best-of-seven series that will determine which team goes to the NBA Finals. After getting waxed by a 112-77 margin in Game 2, the Thunder have won the next two games, with a great effort in Game 4 resulting in a 105-92 win.
Kevin Durant, the NBA’s MVP, and Russell Westbrook combined for 71 points on Tuesday, and the Thunder, who have benefited from Serge Ibaka’s decision to put himself back into action after being ruled out of the playoffs, is now in a position to take control of this series as Game 5 begins at 9 PM ET at the AT&T Center.
Over 206.5 Points -110
Under 206.5 Points -110
What was kind of amazing is that Westbrook and Durant combined for just three turnovers in Tuesday’s contest. Durant didn’t turn the ball over at all, in fact. And Westbrook literally brought the ball down the floor and did everything himself a total of NINETEEN times in the game, which shows an awful lot of audacity with a player like Durant available, but as NBA bettors plainly saw, he made it work, scoring 40 points and baffling San Antonio’s defensive scheme with the way he attacked the basket. It resulted, among other things, in a lot of opportunities at the free throw line – Westbrook has gone 22-for-22 from the charity stripe over the last two contests.
Between him and Durant, they have had 39 free throws in these last two victories, and they have to try to continue that as they proceed. Seriously, to many bettors, the Spurs have looked like a team that is getting old. Tim Duncan played only 25 minutes and scored nine points. Tony Parker has had eight assists and seven turnovers the last two games. Manu Ginobili, who has a sore foot, was just 2-for-8 from the field in Game 4. And what happened to Danny Green? He made just one field goal on Tuesday night, and showed no residue form the guy who blasted OKC with seven triples in Game 2. Sure, there is upside. But can San Antonio reach it?
We don’t mean to sound like we are jumping on the bandwagon, but it is pretty inviting. After all, through analytics we know that when Ibaka is on the floor, the Spurs (-170 to win the series in the NBA betting odds) have scored 33 fewer points per 100 possessions than when he is off the floor. The Thunder swept all four regular season meetings with him, and then both of these playoff games after he came back from the injury, and in only one of those games did San Antonio, which hit nearly 49% of its field goals on the season, shoot better than 43.2%. So bettors may have a natural tendency to believe that Ibaka’s presence changes the whole thing. That is why, if we are in at atmosphere where we are looking to identify a “Big Three” group here or there, perhaps Ibaka deserves some mention there alongside Durant and Westbrook.