Looks like the Oklahoma City Thunder — including coach Scott Brooks and Serge Ibaka himself — have been sandbagging.
Oklahoma City released a statement Thursday, Serge Ibaka has been listed as day-to-day and could play in the Western Conference Finals, the team announced Friday. Game 3 is Sunday in Oklahoma City.
Ibaka suffered a strained calf in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Clippers and missed the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, both blowout wins by the Spurs where Ibaka’s presence was missed on both ends of the court.
“The abundance of blood and therefore swelling in Serge’s calf has reduced substantially and unexpectedly, allowing a level of movement and stability not thought possible after the initial diagnosis…” Thunder GM Sam Presti said in a released statement. “At present, Serge has yet to complete a full basketball workout, but is walking and doing light basketball drills. With this new information, and in an effort to keep his status current, we are now listing him as day-to-day with the understanding that there is a possibility for him to play in this series.”
He may be able to return by Game 3.
The Spurs expected something like this.
In the first two games, the Spurs scored 120 points total in the paint — a sign of how much the Thunder missed Ibaka’s shot blocking. In the regular season the Spurs shot just 50 percent in the restricted area against the Thunder, much of that due to Ibaka’s length. In two games this series the Spurs have gotten 58 shots in the restricted area and hit 77.6 percent of them.
However, Ibaka’s absence is missed more on the offensive end, where he is a reliable third scoring option with a mid-range shot that defenders have to respect. The Spurs have not respected Nick Collison or any other scorer on the Thunder, focusing instead on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, taking away easy buckets and making life generally difficult for them.
Down 2-0 a return of Ibaka might come too late to save the series for the Thunder, but it makes it far more interesting.