Call it a side effect of too much down time in the conference finals.
While the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs were scheduled for three full days to travel from The Alamo to The Big Friendly … by covered wagon, apparently, the Oklahoma City medical staff changed the status of power forward Serge Ibaka from “out” to “day-to-day” because of a left calf strain. (h/t ESPN.com)
Ibaka had been ruled out for the postseason after injuring the leg during Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers.
As we learned Friday, “out for the postseason” can now be defined as “two games.”
Or can it?
The Spurs, for their part, fully expected to see Ibaka during the series.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had an appropriately dry reaction.
“Shocked,” Popovich said. “So surprised.”
Then he got more serious, if only slightly.
“Like I told you from the beginning, I know [Thunder general manager Sam Presti]. We knew (Ibaka) would be back. And that’s good. Nobody would wish it on anybody to miss the playoffs/ We’ve had guys miss playoffs before and it’s obviously a downer. So if he gets back in, and I’m sure he will as I’ve said from the beginning, I think it’s great.”
But how much can we really expect from Ibaka?
He has taken some light shooting drills, but has not participated in a full practice or contact drills.
Presti was evasive on whether or not Ibaka would play in Game 3 on Sunday.
“The best way for me to answer that question is to say we can’t rule him out,” Presti said.
Without Ibaka, the Thunder’s interior defense has been absolutely gutted. San Antonio is shooting 78 percent in the restricted area through the first two games of the series and Oklahoma City is surrendering a whopping 123.4 points per 100 possessions.
With Ibaka during the regular season, the Thunder were 4-0 against the Spurs and held San Antonio to 93 points per 100 possessions.
While it’s hard to pin a 30.4-point swing on one player being out of the lineup, there is no question the Thunder have missed Ibaka’s rim protection … badly.
But a calf injury—even if the swelling has gone down considerably—would almost certainly affect Ibaka’s explosive leaping ability.
How long Ibaka would be able to go is also a question we can’t answer until Sunday. He’s only missed about a week in calendar time, so conditioning shouldn’t be a question. But it will depend on pain tolerance and the ability to adjust to playing with a noticeable physical hindrance.
However, Oklahoma City has its backs against the wall and if even a cameo appearance by Ibaka could provide a spark—a la Willis Reed in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals for the New York Knicks—then it’s a risk worth taking.