The Oklahoma City Thunder put up a valiant fight against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals just about a month ago. Although the Thunder lost the series in six games, they may have been swept had it not been for Serge Ibaka’s miraculous return to the team in Game 3 from a brutal calf injury.
In his return, Ibaka helped the Thunder to defeat the Spurs 106-97 on their home court. In 29 minutes Ibaka scored 15 points, hauled in seven rebounds, blocked four shots, and shot 6-7 from the field.
Now a month later, Ibaka opened up to ESPN about playing through the injury in order to help his team survive:
[The doctors] told me I was going to be out for the rest of the playoffs: “The MRI showed that you are bleeding a lot in your calf and you’re going to be out the rest of the playoffs.” But my heart was telling me, “You’re going to be back.”
“I’m not just going to sit back and watch the rest of the playoffs at home.” I wasn’t listening to them. They told me “This is dangerous, this is serious; you can’t play like that.” I was like, “Man, excuse me, I’m about to play. This is too early to happen to me. (1) I’m not getting surgery, and (2) Trust me, I’m going to be back to play. At least one game, at least Game 7 or Game 6 or whatever, I will play.”
At the end of the day, Ibaka’s return was about his own determination and heart to play for his team. He was willing to lay it all on the line in order for his team to have a chance against the Spurs:
My injury was nothing. Being from the Congo and going through what I went through when I was young and I make it to the NBA? I can do this easy. That’s where I got my motivation to keep believing that I would be back.
With a mindset like that compounded by his excellent play, Ibaka will certainly be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.