By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Let’s just say it happens when you have a team that is populated by veterans who have been around the block so many times that they’ve worn a rut into the block.
They get suspicious, skeptical, well, downright cynical.
That’s why Tony Parker has expected to see Serge Ibaka play all along.
“I don’t really believe it,” Parker said on the eve of Game 1 after the Thunder held a press conference to announce that their power forward would miss the series and probably the rest of the playoffs. “I’ll believe when I see…he is not on the court. It’s hard to believe. We’ll see.”
So, in addition to becoming quite a good basketball team, it seems the Spurs have learned a bit about seeing through smoke screens after all these years. With the word coming down that OKC could get its defensive stopper back into the lineup — maybe even for Game 3 on Sunday — the Spurs are taking it in stride.
“Shocked. So surprised,” coach Gregg Popovich told reporters as the sarcasm practically dripped down his chin. “Like I told you from the beginning, we know (Thunder general manager) Sammy (Presti). We knew he’d be back.”
“It doesn’t change anything,” said forward Tim Duncan. “We’re going to play the same way, attack the same way and hopefully have the same results.”
Ibaka averaged 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in the playoffs before straining a muscle in his left calf in Oklahoma City’s Game 6 clinching win over the Clippers.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks repeatedly and emphatically had insisted that Ibaka was “not coming back.”
Without their defensive anchor in the middle of the lineup, OKC’s defense has been a virtual sieve as the Spurs have scored 122 and 112 points and rumbled to 66 and 54 points in the paint, getting to the basket at will. In addition, Ibaka’s absence at the offensive end has taken away a third scoring option outside of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and create problems for the Thunder in spacing the floor.
But now that door is cracked open and all the Spurs say is that they aren’t exactly thunderstruck or shaken to their core.