It was all wrong just a week ago. Serge Ibaka was done for the season which included the Conference Finals against the best team in the West. The Oklahoma City Thunder went from potentially causing an upset to potentially being swept. OKC lost the first two games, the second one being a humiliation and went home with their tails between their legs and a dogfight on their hands.
Then Serge Ibaka returned.
The additional rest had apparently helped Ibaka recover enough that he would be able to take part in the series after all. And boy did the Thunder need him. Repeatedly dominated in the paint, unable to curtail Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, and allowing the San Antonio Spurs to get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted – the Thunder were in all sorts of trouble and were searching for answers. Clearly not 100%, Ibaka put his faith in God and threw down the gauntlet. His team needed him, and he wasn’t going to disappoint.
Game 3 will be known as “The Calf Game”. It wasn’t as statistically brilliant as Michael Jordan‘s “flu game” but it was equally as important. Ibaka gave the Thunder their balance back. He rotated, he defended, he rebounded and he blocked shots. He also provided the Thunder with some extra spark and an extra offensive weapon to make life a little easier for his teammates. It was a stellar and brilliant performance.
Many people questioned why the Oklahoma City Thunder kept Serge Ibaka and traded James Harden (while there is FAR more to it than this, many people clearly saw this as the case – a straight up decision), Ibaka showed them in Game 3. While Harden had done the same a couple of seasons ago, it was Ibaka’s time. He showed just how important he is in the scheme of things, in the team structure, in their future. For those who have watched the Thunder a lot, and those who have watched this series – you now know why Ibaka was considered an integral part of the team.
Serge Ibaka – 15 points (6/7 FG), 7 rebounds and 4 blocks in just 30 minutes of action. If that statline seems mundane, go and watch the game. You will witness an impact that far exceeds the numbers.
How he pulls up from this game is anyone’s guess. Ibaka left the game and went down to the rooms late in the third quarter, but seemed to be ok. Now that the adrenaline has worn off though, his recovery will be the focus of the Thunder medical staff. In a generation where people tend to look after themselves first and foremost, Ibaka clearly put the team first. And they responded.
Outside of the numbers and the on floor impact, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson clearly had more confidence with their power forward on the floor. He lifted their spirits, he gave them everything he had and asked the same in return from everyone who spent time on the floor – and it paid off.
Still trailing the Spurs 2-1 in the series, the Thunder are by far and away still the underdog. But with Ibaka in uniform, you get the feeling that anything can happen.