May 5, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) blocks a shot attempt by Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes (22) during the first quarter in game one of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder: What Does Serge Ibaka’s Status Change Mean?


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.

“I don’t really believe it,” Tony Parker said before the Western Conference Finals began. “I’ll believe when I see … he is not on the court. It’s hard to believe. We’ll see ….”

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.

Tags: 2014 Western Conference Finals Oklahoma City Thunder Serge Ibaka

  • Victor Edwards

    I am a huge Thunder fan, but unless Ibaka is at full strength, his return is meaningless. Without him at full strength, it is game over, frankly. But OKC needs to change this in the very near future. The injury to Ibaka has cost them the championship.

    • Tyrone Bowman

      Ibaka at 80% is a better defensive/offensive player than any OKC big. The thing is Serge may not even be at 80%. His return could prove to be as big of a distraction as his absence, especially if Thunder players are unclear whether he’ll come back to Game 3 until shoot around. Either way Pop will have his boys prepared if Ibaka plays.

    • Phil Watson

      I agree with Tyrone’s assessment. The threat/promise of Ibaka could be as much of a factor as anything he can or can’t do on the floor.

  • i2grok

    Several years ago Popovich held Tim Duncan out of playoff games because he was injured. He could have played, and playing probably would have advance the Spurs to the next round. But Pop was concerned for years down the line, and Tim Duncan’s career.
    If Serge plays now, will it shorten his effective career? Which is more important, a single game or a longer future?

    • Phil Watson

      If it were an injury to a joint, such as a knee or an ankle, that would be a legitimate concern. But it’s doubtful there is a long-term concern over a calf muscle.