A few days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder got the unfortunate news that their big man, Serge Ibaka, had suffered a calf injury that would keep him out the rest of the postseason. It was a brutal blow as they prepared for the Western Conference Finals against the ageless, and seemingly always healthy San Antonio Spurs.
It is also now the second straight postseason in which a core member of their team has suffered a debilitating injury.
Last year it was Russell Westbrook and his meniscus which cost the Thunder dearly as they fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round of the playoffs.
Last night the Thunder opened the conference finals against the Spurs, with Game 1 down in San Antonio. It was clear that Ibaka’s absence was hurting the Thunder in multiple ways. The Spurs were getting whatever they wanted in the paint, as they were not bothered by the presence of Steven Adams or Nick Collison. And offensively, Adams and Collison are nowhere near the threat Ibaka is with his ability to step out and hit jumpers. With Ibaka spacing the floor, it opens up driving lanes for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. In the end, the Spurs pulled away with a 122-105 victory, made much easier without the presence of Ibaka.
There may be some good news on the horizon for the Thunder, however, as Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting this morning that Ibaka is looking to make a surprise return to the floor this postseason.
Ibaka is back in Oklahoma City for Games 1 and 2 – ruled out of the playoffs with a lower leg injury – but his willingness to play with pain, his loyalty to the championship cause, has him thinking about starting some stationary shooting late this week, a league source told Yahoo Sports on Monday.
Wojnarowski does caution us on getting too excited about a Willis Reed-like return.
Deep down, Ibaka understands his medical timetable couldn’t possibly include a return to these conference finals, but no one has yet talked him out of the belief he’d be back in the lineup if the Thunder advanced to the NBA Finals, a source said. The Thunder believed this injury would be a one-to-two-month recovery period. Without a tear in that plantaris muscle, though, Ibaka wants to believe it can be sooner.
It certainly seems as though a return to the Western Conference Finals is out of the question, but should the Thunder pull through against the Spurs, there’s a small chance Ibaka could make it back for the Finals.
That’s all good and well, but none of it will matter if Durant and Westbrook can’t figure out the Spurs and lead the Thunder past them.