Struggling Ibaka Focused On Game 4

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Serge Ibaka on Sunday delivered a challenge, more to himself than to the tough Memphis Grizzlies’ defense.

“If they play the same defense they play on me like [Game 3],” Ibaka said, “I think next game, it will be a different story.”

The reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder’s survival is dependent on it. Their 6-foot-10 power forward transformed himself into a terrific mid-range shooter this season, a welcomed progression for a team that lost James Harden. But Ibaka has clanged a lot of rim this postseason. The Thunder could make up for it against Houston in the first round, but Memphis is a different animal, and with Kevin Martin also struggling, OKC’s offense, with Kevin Durant accounting for 37.4 percent of the scoring, is grinding its wheels.

Ibaka is missing easy inside looks such as the two dunks in Game 3. He’s missing contested jumpers and he’s missing wide open jumpers.

“I’m trying,” said Memphis forward Zach Randolph, the prime defender on Ibaka when asked if he feels he’s contesting the majority of Ibaka’s jumpers. “But he has missed open shots. He has.”

For the playoffs, Ibaka is 12-for-48 from the outside the paint. In this series alone he is shooting 30.8 percent overall. This from a player that shot a career-best 57.3 percent overall during the regular season and shot better than 50 percent from four of the seven areas recorded on shot charts from outside the key to the 3-point arc. In only one area, from the left wing, did he shoot below 46.9 percent.

After Memphis executed down the stretch to pull out the 87-81 win and take a 2-1 lead in this semifinal series, Durant suggested that Ibaka’s issues are mental.

“We can’t let him put too much pressure on himself. It’s all in his mind,” Durant said. “If he thinks he is going to make those shots, then he is going to make them. I have to pick him up and that is what I have been doing.”

Ibaka didn’t disagree with Durant’s assessment, suggesting that it is normal to have a dip in confidence when the shots aren’t falling. But he said that mechanically he feels fine and that he’s getting shots from spots on the floor that he normally would with Russell Westbrook pushing the tempo and running the halfcourt offense.

“Right now, for me, my focus is on this game,” Ibaka said. “Like people say, if you think about the past you cannot get better in the next one. So I am trying to do the best I can to forget about the last game and be aggressive.”

His shooting slump has not dulled his defensive effort as he takes on the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Randolph, one of the league’s toughest low-post covers. Ibaka held Randolph to eight points on 4-for-12 shooting, and one offensive rebound in Game 3. He has 20 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.

After Randolph blew up the Clippers for 20.8 ppg on 56.8 percent shooting, he’s averaging just 13.8 ppg on 42.5 percent shooting against Ibaka, Nick Collison and at times Kendrick Perkins, who has his hands full mostly with Marc Gasol.

“Serge has missed some easy shots, a couple of layups, a couple of dunks,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “There’s nothing you can do about it but step up to the plate and be ready to do it again. Whether it’s in his head or not, I don’t know. I think if we can get those same shots for him, I believe in the work that he puts in, that he can make his next shot.”

34 Comments

  1. Patty says:

    IBAKA IS A VERY GOOD PLAYER.

  2. Un chien andalou says:

    OKC game style is the problem. You can’t play all year with two guys shooting every ball they had and the rest of the team playing and defending for Westbrook and Durant. This is not a team.
    Now westbrook is out, what can you expect? It’s absurd to blame Ibaka.

  3. Kimmy says:

    Okay, enough said people. OKC is struggling. We know. ut it’s not over till the fat lady sings. GO OKC!!!!!!

  4. Kimmy says:

    Okay, enough said people. OKC is struggling. But it’s not over till the fat lady sings!!! Go OKC!!!!!

  5. mable bounty says:

    U win some & loose some but its not over til its over whats done is done dnt dwell on it just get out there & play like i kno u kno how do it 4 u &me!

  6. john says:

    i dont think the thunder will get to the finals if ibaka isnt shooting well and westbrook is out. Durant is carrying the team offensively but I just dont think they will make it.

  7. anonymous says:

    i think at the end of the day it should be KD playing the hero and perform during clutch time. as just what the Grizz did when they go to Marc Gasol to score. Ibaka and Sefolosha are playing tough defense against Conley and ZBo so you cant tell them to step up to their offense when they are defensive minded type of player. KD should fill up the scoring sheet that Westbrook left maybe they could win a game with and also Scott Brooks need to step up BIG time, he should try to make plays more easy for KD not like making hard for KD to have the balls in his hands and hes working hard even before he could touch the ball. so Scoot Brooks u need to step up! give KD double screens or try to switch KD’s defender so that it would be more easier for him to score

  8. ko0kiE says:

    I’ve notice the same thing.. he hasn’t been the same guy since the playoffs started. but I still believe he will be one of the better big men in a foreseeable future.. he is still young (23) and has improved year after year, and its wasn’t a slow progression either.
    he needs to acquire some post moves and then he will be fine offensively.

  9. fma says:

    wrong move OKC by trading Harden…it must be Westbrook and IBAKA to be traded,then get lamarcus type of power forward or any power forward that can shoot and a good defender point guard at that time….

  10. Hugues says:

    Ibaka is definitely not useless as some ignorant mentionned, Look at Z-Bo stats against him compared to his stats vs Blake.
    Harden only makes sense when westbrook is down, this is just circumstantial, for the long run I’ll take Ibaka over Harden.
    Ibaka’s shooting funk doesn’t negate what he’s done this season.
    And that ignorant dude that commented about him not being a one-on-one defender should ask Z-bo.
    OKC’s current problems are not to blame on individual players whether Ibaka, k-mart, sefolosha or Perkins, they have a big piece missing against a very tough team.
    OKC was down 2-1 against the same team in 2011 with Harden on the roster remember?

    • ko0kiE says:

      word. Ibaka isn’t overrated or useless.. even if he can’t help them enough without westbrook to overcome memphis, his upside at 23 is tremendous… enough said!

    • Ken says:

      All excellent points.

  11. MJfromOKC says:

    Bill Simmons spews inaccurate information. We didnt give Serge a max contract he is paid 48M/4 yr. We offered James 56M/4ry and he walked.

    I’m not all that impressed with Memphis. They have not dominated the incomplete Thunder by any means in fact this series could still go OKCs way. Miami isnt playing that well in the playoffs. I think this OKC could have had a really, really good shot at winning a title with Westbrook.

    • the cub says:

      Memphis has been the better team in all 3games so far. If it wasn’t for a clutch performance by KD in game 1 the would be down 3-0. It’s not over yet and OKC could still get up but Grizzlies are a more complete team than OKC without Westbrook

  12. wilson says:

    All okc is confidence, they’ve definitely lost that now that Westbrook is gone.otherwise we’re looking at a Future with grizzlies in the western conference final.

  13. redsoxalltheway says:

    really? ur gunna mention pressure cookers after what hpnd in boston and use it as a pun?? smh #insensitive

  14. HEELO says:

    I feel kind of bad for Serge Ibaka. Its got to be hard losing a key player like Westbrook and going against a tough opponent in the Grizzlies. The pressure on him has been pretty big, but knowing his work ethic, I think he’s got a shot to be better and back to himself before this series is over. The Thunder need him and without his offensive contributions, the challenge of getting to the West Conference Finals becomes tougher

  15. They need Harden now instead of Serge. cause Westbrook is out of the picture now. good luck to OKC. last year they are one of the scary team compare today only Durant is the pure scorer out there and looks who’s on the Bench no one can score a lot when it comes to bench mob only MO Cheeks LOL

  16. bye bye says:

    OKC cant hang without Westbrook physically and mentally

    Look completely rattled and un nerved with out westbrook out there.

  17. Reggie Evans is an Alien! says:

    What’s with this hate for Serge??? He’s had a great season, and he was the sensible option as their third man (over Harden) as they need a big who can protect the rim – OKC would not be better off having three primary scorer’s/ball handlers and no-one to help on the defensive end

    • josh says:

      I didagree. OKC could really use Harden right now that Westbrook is out. Serge is not a max contract plkayer. In fact not many bigs in the NBA are max contract players. Gasol and Z-Bo definitely are two of the few which also includes Howard (love him or hate him), Noah, Duncan, Chandler and a couple of others. The Heat don’t have a rim protector and they seem to be doing just fine…

    • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

      Your right, that’s why they should have kept Harden & Traded Westbrook instead. Westbrook & Durant don’t really play well together, westbrook always tries to out-do Durant instead of being a point guard and facilitating. Harden starting SG and Durant SF would de dangerous..

    • Ken says:

      Absolutely correct!

  18. theholyspectator says:

    RIP OKC

  19. kyungho says:

    Ibaka, Perkins…These guys just couldn’t measure up to Z-Bo and Gasol. Ibaka is good at blowing punch under the belt. That’s it. Perkins totally useless except shoving around. Z-Bo and Gasol are bigger bullies. When confronted with bigger dogs, smaller ones just lower their tails and bark. That’s exactly what Ibaka is doing.. I expect Griz will meet Warrios in the final, very close series. But against Heats? …….

  20. Ben says:

    I think Ibaka (and OKC generally) is suffering from the inevitable lack of confidence in their own ability to win with Westbrook out of the picture. It must have been a huge psychological blow and it’s showing in their physical performance (the machine that is Durant excluded).

    • Another Heat Fan says:

      I agree, but durant isn’t excluded either.
      Durant has lost some confidence as well and looks like he’s playing out of desperation. He’s taking it upon himself to absorb westbrook’s role and do most of the scoring, but what’s happening now is his team is losing some scoring rythm.

      The worst thing about what they’ve done after losing westbrook is how they have slowed down their game. I mean the thunder used to run hard with westbrook a team like memphis would not get back on D in time to even foul. But now they are not playing the transition game anymore. They keep slowing it down, playing a halfcourt game which is exactly what the grizzlies want them to play.

      Every once in a while, yes they can slow down the ball and give it to durant and let him create something. But this should not be how they run their entire offence. They need to run more and play transition offence, even in 2 on 4 situations they still have the advantage with their speed they just aren’t using it.

      • Ken says:

        They’ve slowed out of necessity. Nobody has Westbrook speed so they naturally lose the ability to beat the defense down the floor.

  21. W/E says:

    How they give this guy a max contract? hes only good at help defence blocking 3 shots per game, really mediocre at rebounding and one on one defence, he got no post game and his medium range jumpshot disappears when defence gets tighter in the playoffs, the guy is useless how they made that mistake and they gave him the max contract instead of Harden, OKC management must feel really dissapontent right now, they messed up now that they face a team with a way better frontcourt they are in big trouble. And what is Perkins doing in the NBA anyway, the guy is good only for pushing and shoving people he would be really valuable in a d-league team to provide some defence vs skinny players, Gasol and Randolph are owning these guys big time.