Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder are preparing for a Western Conference Finals showdown with the San Antonio Spurs after winning the series against the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday night at the Staples Center with a clinching 104-98 game six victory.
However, the Thunder's star power forward Serge Ibaka will not be preparing for that conference finals showdown.
After injuring his calf during the third quarter of last night's victory, Ibaka underwent an MRI on Friday that confirmed that the injury to Ibaka's calf is severe enough that it will keep him on the sidelines for the remainder of the post-season.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka underwent an MRI today that confirmed he suffered a left calf injury during the third quarter of last night's contest against the Los Angeles Clippers, the team announced. Ibaka is expected to miss the remainder of the 2014 postseason.
"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," Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti said. "At this point it is important that our team directs its concentration and energy towards 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."
Even with the league MVP in Durant and another top 10 player in Westbrook, things don't look so good for the Thunder against the Spurs now without Ibaka.
Not only are the Spurs well coached (huge understatement) but still playing down low for them is future hall of fame inductee Tim Duncan, who averaged 13 points and eight rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers' big man tandem of LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez in a five game series. But without Ibaka, the Thunder don't have an Aldridge, a Lopez or anything close to them on their roster.
In other words, Duncan is going to get his against the Thunder.
Without Ibaka, the Thunder are now stuck with Nick Collison, rookie Steven Adams, the still very young and nearly useless Perry Jones and the rotting carcass of what used to be Kendrick Perkins. To spare you of all of the BS explanations and analytics; the Thunder's big men don't have a snow ball's chance in hell of stopping Mr. Fundamental from getting at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in every game of this series.
In recent games against the Spurs, the Thunder have typically fared well, but in large part due to Ibaka. Not only because his combination of size, length and athleticism on the defensive end is a huge mismatch for the Spurs, but because of his scoring as well.
Ibaka averaged 12.2 points on 61.6 percent shooting in the playoffs to go along with 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks-per-game as well. And here's another telling stat; OKC has been eight points better per-48 minutes this post-season with Ibaka on the court compared to when he has been on the bench.
But what about the MVP, Durant? He's six-foot-nine and has one of the best set of skills in the league, why can't he play power forward?
Well, he can, but all season long, and really for his entire coaching career, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks has struggled to figure out how to utilize Durant at the power forward position properly and use him to his full potential there. Figuring out how to play Durant at power forward in certain situations nearly cost the Thunder the series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Throwing Durant in at power forward might give the Thunder back some of the rim protection they lose with Ibaka out, but it also leaves Durant to get beat up by Duncan and Tiago Splitter, or even to fall into foul trouble. Adams is prone to foul trouble as well, Collison has a very limited set of skills and if Perkins is paired with either of them in the front court then that given duo would most likely be too slow to guard some of the Spurs bigs that can play around the perimeter; like Boris Diaw.
Certainly Brooks will play Durant at the power forward, but how effective will he be? Will Collison and Adams be as successful and useful as they were against the Clippers? Will Perkins, like, pretend to be good at basketball?
Even if the other big men on the Thunder's squad play to the best of their ability, there is no way they will be able to match everything Ibaka brought to the team. They'll miss his rim protection, scoring, rebounding and the matchup problem he presents to an older, less athletic Spurs front line.
Someone besides Durant and Westbrook will have to step up for the Thunder; they can only do so much. But who on the Thunder's roster has the ability to do so?
Good luck Loud City.