The Oklahoma City Thunder will be without defensive stalwart Serge Ibaka to open the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, and the 6-foot-10 power forward is likely to miss the rest of the playoffs because of a strained left calf muscle.
Ibaka, who injured his calf in Game 6 of the conference semifinal series against the Los Angeles Clippers, is primarily known for his defense, rebounding and shot-blocking. He's also become the Thunder's No. 3 offensive option after All-Star forward Kevin Durant, who led the NBA in scoring at 32 points a game this season, and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, who averaged more than 29 points a game in helping Oklahoma City eliminate the Clippers.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post said that Thunder center Steven Adams is a second-year pro. He is a rookie.
The Thunder will try to make up for Ibaka's loss with veteran 6-10 power forward Nick Collison and 7-foot center Steven Adams, a rookie out of New Zealand. Veteran 6-7 forward Caron Butler and rookie 6-11 forward Perry Jones could also help provide minutes in Ibaka's absence.
In a statement, Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti voiced optimism that the Thunder had the depth to handle the loss of Ibaka.
“We are obviously disappointed for Serge, as he is a tremendous competitor, and we know how badly he wants to be on the court with his teammates,” Presti said in the statement. “At this point it is important that our team directs its concentration and energy toward preparation and execution for our upcoming series. As with all teams, our group has confronted different challenges. It is our collective experience that we will call on to ensure that we play to our capabilities.”
Ibaka, a 24-year-old, fifth-year veteran from the Republic of Congo, averaged career highs of 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds, as well as 2.7 blocked shots, a game during the regular season. He was averaging 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game this postseason.
Ibaka's main priority would have been to slow down Spurs All-Star power forward Tim Duncan as well as to take some of the scoring burden off Durant and Westbrook. Now it appears Adams, Collison and Jones will have to attempt to provide that defense while Butler as well as guards Reggie Jackson and Thabo Sefolosha will have to pick up the scoring load.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times