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Ibaka Injury Could Doom Thunder’s Hopes

The Oklahoma City Thunder has had injury setbacks this season to Russell Westbrook their explosive point guard. However, thus far during the postseason, things have gone well for the Thunder on the court as they have reached the NBA Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Thunder have enjoyed four-point plays, Russell Westbrook’s Game 5 steal to force OT, the suspension of Zach Randolph, Reggie Jackson’s impressive Game 4 versus Memphis and the impossible rally and win over the Clippers.

However, at the end of Game 6, as the Thunder were defeating the Los Angeles Clippers to win the series, Serge Ibaka limped from the court, which was not one of the highlight reel memorable moments the Thunder had hoped to see.

If a human being could be carved from stone it would be Ibaka and not too much concern was paid to the Thunder’s ironman limping from the court. Ibaka has missed just three games during his five years in the NBA.

However, the ironman made of stone can be broken. Ibaka likely will miss the remainder of this year’s postseason due to a Grade 2 calf strain.

The loss of Ibaka brings back memories of the Thunder losing Westbrook thanks to a torn meniscus in the first round last season in the playoffs.

The injury to Ibaka is not as severe, and will likely not linger over the summer and into next season, as did Westbrook’s. However, it eliminates the defensive specialist for the Thunder from this postseason, leaving the club without one of its top three players.

Ibaka does not make as noticeable of an impact as Westbrook does. Nevertheless, Ibaka is averaging 15 points and nearly 9 rebounds per game over the season. The defensive specialist was second in the NBA in blocked shots this season.

The biggest place the Thunder will feel the loss of Ibaka is in its inside game on defense where he is a big presence. It is not just the shots he blocks into the stands, but how many he alters but never touches. It also is the opponent’s shots that are released early, too high and have little or no chance of going through the hoop.

Ibaka is a 7-foot fluid athlete that can run the court and make it difficult for opposing teams to go hard to the basket on the break or even in a half court game.

Oklahoma City has spoken about how they will use other players to make up for Ibaka’s absence, which is not as directly obvious as the impact Westbrook or team high scorer Kevin Durant have on the team.

However, Ibaka’s ability to relieve pressure on Durant and Westbrook by popping out off the pick for a jumper or catching and finishing in traffic will be greatly missed.

He anchors the defense for Oklahoma City allowing the perimeter defenders the opportunity to pressure the pick and rolls and close on shooters quickly and aggressively.

The big question now is can the Thunder beat San Antonio without Ibaka. Sure, since Durant and Westbrook create huge problems for the Spurs and could overcome the absence of Ibaka.

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