Ibaka Proves His Worth
The Spurs accused the Thunder of playing a chess match by announcing that Serge Ibaka would miss the rest of the postseason so quickly, and it looks like they were right. Ibaka returned to the lineup for Game 3, only a few days after he was proclaimed to be out for the playoffs. The Thunder were down 0-2 in the series, but look revitalized in their 106-97 win over San Antonio on Sunday night. Being at home was surely part of it, but Ibaka’s presence was felt in the paint as well.
Ibaka played 30 minutes, putting up 15 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks. He missed only one shot, going 6-for-7 from the field as well as 3-for-4 from the free throw line. He had a great game, and and his offensive and defensive contributions to the team are never in question. What is interesting is how the Thunder decided to handle his injury. The team announced straight away on May 16 that Ibaka would not play in the Western Conference Finals, no matter how long it lasted. The Spurs were weary to the extent of the injury, thinking some misdirection was afoot. In response to that, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said this to reporters: “He’s not coming back. Nothing has changed. And it’s no reason to keep bringing this up. He’s not coming back.” Looks like Gregg Popovich was right to question whether the calf strain was that.
Now I guess it’s possible that Ibaka just has super healing ability, and being out for at least a month was carved down to 10-11 days by the potion of a shaman, but it looks like the Thunder were just playing games. San Antonio and Popovich were too smart to fall for it, preparing no differently that they would if Ibaka was in the lineup because they knew he would in fact be back during the Western Conference Finals. While the Thunder won Game 3 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena to get back into the series, it was expected they would take at least one of the games in Oklahoma City. Popovich had some fun with the situation during the press conference after the game when someone asked if Manu Ginobili would be fine after sustaining a minor injury in the fourth quarter:
In the Eastern Conference, the Heat have a 3-1 lead that they probably won’t give up. Judging on the last two NBA Finals, they’re probably rooting for the Thunder to beat San Antonio. The Spurs have been absolutely dominant at home, so whether Ibaka is in the lineup or not when the series goes back to the Alamo City, the Thunder will need to solve the puzzle that the Trail Blazers failed to. In fact, Portland didn’t even come close.