This is a punch to the gut of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Or more accurately, a sweep of the leg.
OKC’s starting power forward Serge Ibaka is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a calf injury sustained in the third quarter of Game 6 against the Clippers, the team announced. He left the court at the time and went to the locker room, not returning to the game in the Thunder’s eventual series-clinching win.
An MRI on Friday confirmed the injury was severe enough to end his season.
“We are obviously disappointed for Serge, as he is a tremendous competitor, and we know how badly he wants to be on the court with his teammates,” Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said in a released statement. “At this point it is important that our team directs its concentration and energy towards preparation and execution for our upcoming series. As with all teams, our group has confronted different challenges. It is our collective experience that we will call on to ensure that we play to our capabilities.”
Ibaka averaged 12.2 points on 61.6 percent shooting, plus having 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game these playoffs — but those numbers don’t even begin to tell the story. He is the athletic, shot-blocking anchor to their defense.
Against the Spurs in recent years the Thunder have had success because of their length and athleticism, particularly on defense. The Thunder tend to stay back and protect the paint on defense, but because of the length and quickness of guys like Ibaka, Kevin Durant and Thabo Sefolosha they can still get out and contest. That will not happen as much now. Plus, Ibaka has often been the third leading scorer for the Thunder, a reliable option when the defense collapses on Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Expect to see Scott Brooks try some Kevin Durant at the four against the Spurs.
Also, in Game 6 against L.A., after Ibaka went down, the Thunder had real success with a Nick Collison and Steven Adams front line. Those two are going to get a real chance, too.
But it’s going to be hard for any of them to make up for Ibaka.