OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Thunder will move Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Spurs, sending Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha to the bench.
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks announced the shift with his team facing a 2-0 series deficit after a pair of back-to-back blowout losses.
Ibaka, 24, returns from a two-game absence due to a calf injury suffered during a closeout Game 6 win over the Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals that was initially expected to be season-ending. It's unclear how many minutes Ibaka -- who was upgraded to "day-to-day" earlier this week -- will be able to play and how well he will be moving given that he hasn't participated in a full practice since getting injured, but his return should provide an emotional boost at the very least. Oklahoma City's shot-blocking expert has been badly missed this series, as San Antonio is averaging 60 points in the paint per game during the series.
"The medical team gave us the go-ahead that he can play," Brooks said, noting that Ibaka will not be on a minutes restriction. "We're excited about it. The last couple of days he's progressed very well, he's improved. The welling went down the last few days and he's got a better handle on it. ... He's increased his activity and then yesterday he did a lot of good things in basketball, game-like situations."
Jackson, 24, gets his first start of the playoffs and will join Russell Westbrook in a dual point guard alignment. The third-year guard stepped in as a starter when Westbrook was sidelined this season due to multiple knee surgeries.
"He gives us another guy that can attack," Brooks said of Jackson. "He gives us another guy that can play pick-and-roll offensively. He gives us another guy that can get opportunities on the weakside to attack their defense, and he's done a great job of improving his three-point shot, and he's shooting over 40 percent from the three."
The starting lineup of Westbrook, Jackson, Kevin Durant, Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins -- which played less than 25 minutes together this season -- will mark the Thunder's third configuration of the playoffs. Brooks had started Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka and Perkins in all but two of Oklahoma City's playoff games entering the Western Conference finals. Brooks twice started a lineup of Westbrook, Caron Butler, Durant, Ibaka and Perkins against the Grizzlies in the first round.
Brooks had hinted at the possibility of a starting lineup change on Saturday. It qualifies as a mild surprise that he elected to start Jackson instead of Butler, given the success that he found starting Butler against Memphis and that fact that Jackson has been his bench unit's most reliable producer during the postseason. The Thunder's reserve corps is now left without a true shot-creating, go-to scoring option.
That said, inserting Jackson should relieve pressure on Durant and Westbrook, and it should give Oklahoma City the opportunity to get off to a strong start in front of its home crowd. Jackson has played well against San Antonio this season, averaging 21.3 points and 4.5 assists in four regular season games. Jackson is averaging 10.7 points and 2.3 assists in the 2014 playoffs, and 10.4 points and 3.5 assists in two postseason games against the Spurs. Like Westbrook, he's capable of breaking down a defense and getting to the basket.
There seemed little question that Oklahoma City needed to try a different approach following Game 2, in which they scored a season-low 77 points and got just 30 points on 40 shots from the Durant/Westbrook combination. Sefolosha, Collison and Perkins combined to score four points on 2-for-9 shooting in Game 2 as San Antonio waltzed to a 35-point victory.