Congolese forward returns to lead Oklahoma City past the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals Game 3.
When the news broke that Serge Ibaka would miss the rest of the playoffs before Game 1 against of the Western Conference Finals, it looked as though the Thunder's playoff run was finished for another year.
His dramatic return in Game 3, however, means Oklahoma City are still well in with a chance at making their secind NBA Finals in three years.
In the first two games of the series the Thunder were helpless defensively, unable to stop Tim Duncan in the post and the Tony Parker's endless drives in consecutive blowouts.
The narrative changed as the series came to Oklahoma City – Duncan was out of sorts offensively and Parker's forays to the rim were out of control.
The big difference was Ibaka's presence. The forward tallied four blocks in his return, forming a formidable defensive pairing with Steven Adams, who recorded four denials of his own.
As the Thunder's big men blocked the paint, the Spurs' usually slick offense resorted to deep 3-pointers and desperate drives, and were held under 100 points for just the second time since the first round.
Ibaka also made an impact on the offensive side of the ball. He scored 15 points on 6-7 shooting in almost a perfect game, acting as the third scoring option and opening up space for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who each scored over 25.
The Thunder don't need Ibaka to be their star this series, they simply need him to contribute as he did last night to have a chance of making the finals. He played 30 minutes in his return, not overworking his recovering calf but also making a sizeable impact.
When the Congolese big man plays the Thunder are a nightmare matchup for the Spurs, and if he stays healthy and continues to turn in performances of such quality, Oklahoma City may well make it to the finals yet.