By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
“Every time I see Ibaka or hear the name, 11-for-11 goes through my head.”
That was Gregg Popovich talking to reporters early on Friday afternoon.
So you figured the Spurs coach was relaxing with his feet up with a nice Malbec in his hand once word spread that Thunder forward Serge Ibaka could have been lost for the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury?
Of course, that would only mean you need to enroll in a course of “Remedial Pop” before the start of the Western Conference finals on Monday.
The last thing Pop wants to hear about is the door being pushed open wider for his Spurs to return to The Finals. He only sees trapdoors.
Even before the loss of the shot-blocking whiz, Popovich and his staff were fretting over Reggie Jackson.
While everyone knows Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will get theirs, it’s Jackson who has been a huge problem for the Spurs in losing all four games to OKC this season.
“If anybody watched our games, they watched Reggie Jackson basically be the Spurs killer any time we played them,” Popovich said.
Over the course of the entire season, Jackson averaged 13.1 points, 2.7 assists and shot 43.1 percent from the field. But in those four Spurs losses, Jackson averaged 21.2 points, 4.3 assists, shot 67.3 percent from the field and connected on 66.7 percent of his 3-pointers.
Of course, Ibaka’s loss will be felt most on the defensive end, where he has the ability to control the paint and prevent Spurs point guard Tony Parker from getting to the spots where he can do the most damage. The sheer numbers show that San Antonio averages 108 points per 100 possessions, except when Ibaka is on the floor. Then the Spurs production drops to 93 per 100 possessions.
There is virtually no way the Thunder will be able to cover up for the absence of Ibaka on defense. Nick Collison is older and slower. Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are younger and untested and have not been prepared. Can you really expect Steven Adams to knock over the furniture for 35-40 minutes per game? Can you ask much more from Durant?
For the Thunder to win now will most likely require a lot more offense. And that’s where Jackson comes in.
Ask Pop and his mouth will pucker like he’s taken a sip from a wine bottle with a twist-off cap. The Spurs killer has left a bad taste behind.