UPDATE: Serge Ibaka will play and start, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game.
He also is starting Reggie Jackson at the two. That means Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison will come off the bench. That certainly brings more offense to the starting lineup, but we will see if that is enough against a Spurs team firing on all cylinders.
2:11 pm: The Oklahoma City Thunder will not make it official until as close to game time as they can get because… well that’s what Bill Belichick would do. And every hockey team (“he has a lower body injury”).
But after he went through shootaround with his team Sunday, you should bet on Serge Ibaka playing in Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs.
Here is what Ibaka said, which you don’t have to read very deeply into to see he will suit up, as reported by Jeff Caplan at NBA.com.
“I remember when the doctor told me I would not be able to play in the playoffs, I cried,” Ibaka said. “Because it’s something I was not really looking for. I always enjoy playing with my teammates, I always enjoy playing basketball. When the doctor told me you are out for the playoffs, it was hard for me. So right now to be able to be back and have an opportunity to play tonight, it feels great, it feels great.”
The real question is will it matter?
No doubt with Ibaka protecting the rim — even 70 or 80 percent of Ibaka is more intimidating in the lane than the other Thunder bigs — it will be more difficult for the Spurs (they had 120 points in the paint the first two games combined). No doubt if Ibaka is knocking down 18-foot baseline jumpers and getting a few putbacks it will help the Thunder offense, it will take some pressure off Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
But it’s too late for these Thunder now — this is not 2012, these Spurs are not going to be swept the next four games. For one thing, no James Harden for OKC. More importantly, this is a better and more athletic Spurs team with Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter playing key roles.
Maybe with Ibaka the Thunder can trade wins with the Spurs, but that’s not enough already down 2-0 in the series.
Still, with him back this series certainly just got a lot more interesting to watch.