For Thunder, Ibaka Effect is real and debilitating

By Jeff Caplan,

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — When Serge Ibaka was ruled out for the Western Conference finals with a strained left calf, it was an obvious blow to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s chances of defeating the San Antonio Spurs.

But does a 52-point differential (122-105 and 112-77) stem solely from the Ibaka Effect? Without the rock-solid, 6-foot-10 Ibaka bumping Tim Duncan on post-ups and fiercely meeting Tony Parker on penetrations and Spurs players rolling through the lane, had the Thunder been reduced from title contender to also-ran without their starting power forward?

Well, in Game 3, the theoretical might become the real. Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Friday announced that Ibaka’s Grade 2 left calf strain has substantially improved to the point that he is now being listed as day-to-day. Prior to the start of the Western Conference finals the team announced he would be out for the remainder of the postseason.

The raw numbers profoundly suggest that the Thunder was substantially weakened, particularly defensively without Ibaka, and Duncan likely wouldn’t argue. Just look at the difference:


                  Regular season            2014 West finals

MPG               31.3                                     29.0

PPG                14.8  (high: 17)                 16.5 (high: 27)

FG%                43.4                                   52.7

%PIIP*           54.2                                   61.5

PIIP**              8.0                                   14.0

OffRtg              93.1                                  130.8

DefRtg              106.5                                96.2

NetRtg              -13.5                                 34.6

*Percentage of points scored in the paint; **average of points scored per game in the paint


The Spurs have scored 120 points in the paint in the first two games of this series. They scored 166 points in the paint in four regular-season games, all won by the Thunder.

Within the Thunder organization, hope existed that veterans Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and rookie Steven Adams could make the necessary adjustments and patrol the paint forcefully enough as to not make it an expressway for Tony Parker to score and endlessly feed Duncan and Tiago Splitter underneath for easy layups. The club wanted to believe that Thabo Sefolosha, Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler could each step up and make up for Ibaka’s mid-range accuracy.

It hasn’t happened. Through two games, Ibaka’s essential two-way contributions are irreplaceable. His loss to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would now seem equivalent to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade trying to get by last year without Chris Bosh, or Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce playing without Kevin Garnett during their contending days in Boston. Or even Parker and Manu Ginobili running the gauntlet without Duncan, particularly during their stretch of three titles in five years a decade ago.

Recall Kevin Durant’s praise for Ibaka in his MVP speech: “When Russell [Westbrook] was out, you stepped your game up for me, for the team, and nights where you made me look way better than what I am. You cleaned up so many of our mistakes, and we appreciate that, from everybody on the team.”

Ibaka had missed only three games over the last four seasons. His sudden loss threw Oklahoma City into scramble mode to make adjustments on the fly, and to do so with little practice time, and against the most effective and efficient ball-movement team in the league.

It has become the Thunder’s worst nightmare: Sorely limiting and wholly debilitating.

“I don’t know what’s going on in their locker room,” hot-shooting Spurs guard Danny Green said. “All I know is what’s going on in our locker room, and our mindset is they’re dangerous regardless if Serge is there or not. He has an injury, we don’t know how serious it is.”

We’re all about to find out.


  1. David says:

    the purs will be fine

  2. okc2014 says:

    When I said ” I’m not listening to anything you haters are saying!” I was not in denial.

  3. okc2014 says:

    We are in desperate mode and yes, Serge Ibaka needs to come back, and play through the injury. As a Thunder fan, I still have sour grapes that they let go of James Harden. I still think they could have kept him and Serge Ibaka. They needed to find a way to cut losses w/ Perkins and Sefalosha. But didn’t. So here we are. Kevin Martin was okay. I beg to differ, I think they have a great bench in Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams, Perry Jones and Caron Butler. They just don’t use them enough for them to get heated up. I have seen a difference in Scotty Brook’s coaching. And I’m not happy with the player decisions that have been made over the past 2 years. This team needs major changes in the off season. Now with that being said and off my chest, I still think OKC Thunder has a 100% chance to win the title. They’ve got the MVP, one of the top 5 guard in the NBA, and the best shot blocker in the NBA ( to be announced when he will play). They have 2 NBA champions on the bench, and the best home court crowd in the whole wide world. I am not there but believe me, I am in spirit. I have confidence in this team, they can do it and I expect them to win tomorrow as a start. I’m not listening to anything you haters are saying! Go Thunder! You can do it!

    • 36yrfan says:

      …. a real fan Always stays positive until the team is eliminated, and is still positive about the season past(as much as can be mustered) and looking forward to bigger and better things in the future…….It’s NEVER over till is over……..and the Spurs know this and respect it…….. best of luck to both teams and may the Best team win the series………GO_SPURS-GO !!!! !

  4. okctofinals says:

    I don’t think Ibaka should rush back in to save the Thunder. OKC needs to learn how to play without him. These are not the 2012 Spurs. They’re not going to lose 4 of the next 5. No reason for Ibaka to risk further injury. Can the Pacers or Heat beat the Spurs when the Spurs have homecourt and are playing so soundly? No, I don’t think they can. Pacers look like a more balanced team (like Spurs) than the Heat but they also have their issues with several late season meltdowns. The Heat might be a better match because they were there with them last year, but things have changed.

  5. Jàmes H says:

    The way the SPURS are playing they still would of beaten the THUNDER. Besides I thought the SPURS were toooooo old to win?

    • 36yrfan says:

      ……Another defining thing about AGE is the experience that comes with it…….

  6. tony says:

    Ibaka has much more impact than Westbrook. When RW was out, OKC won a lot of games. I don’t know how many games OKC can win without Ibaka. OKC supporting cast are also lousy and not dependable. They simply can not shoot. Do you notice how many air ball they make during the playoff??? Not just this year but last year playoff was even worse. If RW penetrate and play point guard like he suppose to then the game are OKC’s favor however if RW start missing shot from the start then forget it…

    • Bball7 says:

      Playoffs are different than regular season playing with the same team everytime especially one like the Spurs is much harder

  7. TRUTH says:

    Spurs are a great team, but Heat is better. Heat in 6 or 7. Spo is hiding oden and beasley, so nobody knows what the heat will be like in the finals. 3 peat will happen.

    • MR210 says:

      You’re joking right – Oden and Beasley!? You can’t seriously believe that?

      Heat might have more success with their water boy if they have to turn to Oden and Beasley as their last hope.

      Spurs are going to eat the Heat’s lunch – that is if they can make it past the Pacers.

      You need to open your eyes and see what your name implies: TRUTH.
      Truth is, Spurs last 7 of 8 wins are by double digit blowouts. This is not a fluke – but Spurs basketball. Ibaka or not – Spurs still win by double digit wins.

      Besides, if Spo was half the coach Pop is, he’d dust off Oden and Beasley and give them meaningful playing time right now…but then again – if Pop had to rely on someone like Oden and Beasley to turn the tide in a series – that means Spurs are in dire straights!


    • 36yrfan says:

      ….you are a riot…….yeah, he’s hiding them alright….from the court….Oden is a relic and beasley can’t spell defense…….

  8. NextManUp says:

    is there a reason why OKC hasnt been able to attract a better supporting cast around KD, Russel and Ibaka?
    last year should have been an example of how much they need that 4th guy to come of the bench or start incase of an injury. I understand they went after Mike Miller but even thats a strech since he didnt really pan out for Miami the way they had hoped ( i understand what he did for them in the playoff but thats a small sample, miami had higher expectations for him.)

    • Caldron Pool says:

      Yeah there is. The franchise is kind of cheap. Look at how they lowballed James Harden and expected him to play for way less than Durant and Westbrook. Then, they didn’t feel like paying to keep Kevin Martin. They’ve made a intentional decision to rely completely on Durant and Westbrook with some support from Ibaka. You also have to wonder how many people want to play with Westbrook. Yes, he is great in his own way, many players in the NBA are, but is he a good teammate?

  9. Matthew says:

    Losing Serge Ibaka is big because he is part of their big 3. He is that teams Chris Bosh. He actually a better Chris Bosh than Chris Bosh is. The guy can flat out play defense. And that is on a team where defense is not it’s identity. After saying that Russell Westbrook has to take some pride in his defense. KD has to take some pride in his defense. The two stars have to get it going on that end of the floor first. Then Perkins and Sefalosha can feed off of that.

  10. jake s. says:

    Yeah, our bigs are either too old and slow, or too young and inexperienced. Ibaka is the only one with youth and knowledge. It Hurts a team. The thunder are getting destroyed in the paint. Think about it. If you take out the foundation of a house, it’s not long before it collapses. Paint defense, and perimeter defense (aka Danny Greens ridiculous 3’s) are more related than you think. With Ibaka in the paint, less people have to collapse and help defend the paint. Interior defense means so much against this team.

  11. Bill says:

    There is no doubt that losing a starter hurts a team but to say the absence of Ibaka is the primary reason the Thunder are getting blown out is preposterous. If Durant was out then a Thunder fan has reason to give up but when you lose your 3rd best player, who is not even close to an all-star level player, you need to find a way to be more competitive than OKC has demonstrated.

    This is a team that has some big isssues, namely they rely during the season on the offensive brilliance of two stars who largely play one on one ball and that doesn’t work well in the playoffs. Second, these two superstars are not very good at defense (obviously).

  12. Chris says:

    Ibaka is crucial.. But he’s still one player. Thunder should still be able to compete for 48 mins without them. Lack of Ibaka just exposes OKC’s major depth weakness.

    Sefolosha used to be a good defender, Fisher just isn’t quick enough to keep up with Parker or Mills.. OKC’s defensive lineup can’t score. Lack of Ibaka just exposes the Thunder for the two and a half man team they are.

  13. cp10 says:

    Finals MVP should go to Serge Ibaka if Spurs win it all the way 😉

    • 36yrfan says:

      …….every team deals with injuries, including in the playoffs…..the Spurs have had Many playoff runs ruined by injuries……they refused to use those injuries as an Excuse each time……..The Thunder have been relatively injury free for the last several years—hence much of their success — and now it is their turn to live with some —last year and this year. To suggest Serge should be a finals mvp shows your lack of basketball knowledge— The finals MVP is Earned when you PLAY great basketball in that last series and WIN it all………… it NOT really funny…..

    • dg says:

      When will you people give the Spurs some credit? They are just that good.

  14. Why somethimes it takes an incident like this before people know how valuable some players are????

    I still do not understand why Serge Ibaka’s name was not mentioned in the DPOY or MIP candidates in the last 2 years.

    Especially the DPOY…..I really don’t get it.

  15. jdub455 says:

    the ibaka injury is critical to the OKC campaign… but even with him playing, they are not ready to beat the spurs…. the way they play, is not how to beat the spurs… okc is a good defensive team but their D starts with the efficiency of their offense… Durant and Westbrook are taking shots the way those old guys want them too… the D must adjust… i just dont think that OKC is built in that way and even if they find out what to do, it may be too late and without ibaka, making the changes are just tougher… maybe next time OKC fans… dont worry, Miami will beat the Spurs… lol!

    • 36yrfan says:

      ….don’t worry …NO MORE RINGS in Miami !!!

    • Chris says:

      2013 Miami is better than 2014 Miami. 2014 San Antonio better than 2013 San Antonio. And spare me the playoff switch argument, Spoelstra has probably already pulled the emergency switch.

    • MR210 says:

      Good point…up until the whole Miami will beat the Spurs line…

      Not true – Spurs own the Heat this year.

      Nothing more dangerous than the #1 Team in the league playing at an extremely high level and are focused. The past 7 of 8 games are not a fluke – blowout double digit wins…against the Dirk and the Mavs, Blazers, and Blazers 2.0 (OKC without Ibaka).
      If Spurs keep up this momentum – they will steamroll into the finals and destroy whoever comes out of the East.


      • 36yrfan says:

        … funny….Blazers 2.0 …….good one…. PS: love your area code Mr……..