The San Antonio Spurs were prepared for this possibility, talking openly of preparing for a Thunder team with Serge Ibaka patrolling the paint. After straining his calf in Game 6 of the Western Semifinals, it was believed Ibaka would be lost for the remainder of the postseason. After participating in shooting drills on Friday and shootaround this morning, he now thinks he might go tonight in Game 3.
The Thunder had a top-5 defense during the regular season with the Congolese-Spanish power forward manning the middle. While Ibaka out in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs have shot better than 50 percent from the field in both games, attacking the rim at will on their way to a 2-0 series lead.
Now, with three days off between Game 2 and 3, Ibaka started shooting drills on Friday, and was upgraded to day-to-day. Now, after continuing his rehab by participating in the team’s Sunday morning shootaround, he’s saying — barring any setbacks — he’ll be suiting up in Game 3:
“I’m trying to put my mind ready and if I’m going to feel better later, I’m going to go,” said Ibaka, who has a left calf strain. “For now, we’re going to see if I feel better, because normally when you do this kind of workout, sometimes you can have pain later.
“So I’m going to see how I feel later and then I’m going to decide.”
Ibaka continued, saying the decision to play was his alone to make:
“It is my decision. At this point, it is my decision more than Coach [Scott Brooks] or the doctor. So it is my decision,” Ibaka said. “And like I said, I went through some offense and defense this morning with my teammates. I’m going to put some ice [on the calf] and see how I’m going to feel later.”
Before he took part in the shootaround this morning, Ibaka talked about his faith as part of his miraculous recovery:
“I am the kind of guy, who, I believe in God, and when the team doctor told me I am going to be out for the rest of the playoffs, I did not believe it because I believe in God, and I know I’m here for a reason, Ibaka told NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan. So I want to just keep pushing, keep putting ice, do what I can control.”
Ibaka understands what his presence means for the Thunder, and it’s got nothing to do with his deft touch from the outside.
“I would try to bring my teammates some defensive mentality,” Ibaka said. “The most important thing against this team is defense. I’m sure you saw the last two games in San Antonio, so we really need defense tonight.”
Yes they do, and it appears Ibaka might be able to help tonight in Game 3. How hard he can compete and whether his presence makes a difference will come down to the result, but the Spurs weren’t counting him out, even if most observers believed he was done.
Will Ibaka’s presence help the Thunder prevail?
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