Serge Ibaka was back, which meant Serge Ibaka was starting. That was a no-brainer for Scott Brooks.
But there were two changes to Brooks’ starting lineup before Sunday night’s 106-97 momentum-shifting win for the Thunder — the second not as loud or heroic but nearly as impactful as Ibaka’s triumphant return.
For the first time in his career, Reggie Jackson started alongside Russell Westbrook. He replaced the previously ineffective Thabo Sefolosha and injected some needed offensive punch into the lineup, playing a game-high 37 minutes and scoring 15 points — six more than three OKC starters combined for in the first two games.
And moving forward, Jackson solidified himself as the team’s new starting shooting guard.
“Is he going to remain?” Brooks quipped when asked if Jackson would stay the starter. “What do you think?”
The only worry with Jackson — and the only argument for Sefolosha — is Reggie’s spotty and sometimes glaringly bad defense this season. And placing him on the scorching hot Danny Green started as a concern and turned into a nightmare in the early going.
Two of the Spurs’ first three baskets were Green 3-pointers — his 12th and 13th of the series — coming off defensive errors by Jackson.
“I was frustrated with myself,” he said.
But after that, Jackson cranked it up on that end. With Ibaka roaming the paint behind him, Jackson was able to play up on Green, pressuring the standstill shooter and forcing him into more uncomfortable looks off the dribble. After making those first two shots, Green finished 1-of-10 in the game.
“When Reggie locked in, one thing I always tell him and Russ, no point guard, no shooting guard should score on him,” Kendrick Perkins said. “Surprisingly, Reggie might be just as athletic as Russ … And when they locked in, especially Reggie, we’re tough to beat.”
Jackson will now be listed as the team’s starting shooting guard. But he kept that point guard mindset on Sunday, giving the Thunder an extra ballhandler and playmaker.
Along with his 15 points, Jackson was second on the team with five assists, drilling Ibaka for a couple early jumpers, Kevin Durant for a pair of big buckets and Steven Adams on a nifty pick-and-roll.
“He did a great job of just attacking, man,” Westbrook said. “He gives me an opportunity to play off the ball a little bit and move around, just find a way to help my team find a way to win. Reggie did a great job of just playing the game, being aggressive, finding guys, rebounding and just being Reggie.”
Desperate times in these playoffs have led to back-against-the-wall adjustments by Brooks. He did it back in the Memphis series, replacing Sefolosha with Caron Butler. And he did it again on Sunday, this time with Jackson.
It may have been too late. Or it may have been just in time.