There was a myriad of speculation ahead of Game 1’s Western Conference Finals matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs. The main one being the fact that OKC was going to be without Serge Ibaka, and no one knew how they would react, or look, without their defensive player of the year candidate.
And the far less optimistic opinions, were right.
The Thunder looked lost, at times. They looked like a team that didn’t embrace the culture of defense — and when they played small, the Spurs were there to make them pay with offensive put-backs by Tiago Splitter, and old fashioned post-ups from Tim Duncan. In short, everything that could’ve gone wrong for the Thunder on the defensive side of the ball did in Game 1.
The outcome? A 122-105 defeat. Spurs lead the series 1-0.
But perhaps there is hope? Maybe Ibaka isn’t going to be out for that long? (He was originally expected to miss the rest of the postseason.)
Maybe not, after all?
Then again, that could just be, “NBA rumors” or the non-pessimistic folks chatting — or the non-realistic ones. Nevertheless, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the skinny on Ibaka’s attempt at a comeback before the end of the postseason.
Ibaka is back in Oklahoma City for Games 1 and 2 – ruled out of the playoffs with a lower leg injury – but his willingness to play with pain, his loyalty to the championship cause, has him thinking about starting some stationary shooting late this week, a league source told Yahoo Sports on Monday.
Deep down, Ibaka understands his medical timetable couldn’t possibly include a return to these conference finals, but no one has yet talked him out of the belief he’d be back in the lineup if the Thunder advanced to the NBA Finals, a source said. The Thunder believed this injury would be a one-to-two-month recovery period. Without a tear in that plantaris muscle, though, Ibaka wants to believe it can be sooner.
Unless the NBA decides to extend this series to a best of 19, it’s very unlikely for Ibaka to ever see the court against the San Antonio Spurs. But the NBA Finals hasn’t been ruled out. Then again, his coach kind of did that after last night’s loss. Talk about the dramatics:
Brooks: "Serge is out and he's not coming back."
— Thunder Obsessed (@ThunderObsessed) May 20, 2014
But even if he is ready a month from now, or even three weeks, the way the Spurs played in Game 1, it may be too late. The Thunder are in trouble. Without their shot-blocking power forward protecting the paint, the Spurs invaded OKC’s interior defense and made it their own.
San Antonio’s shot chart was flooded with paint shots. They scored a playoff-high 66 points in the paint in Game 1. The scariest part for any Thunder fan is the fact that it was just Game 1. Gregg Popovich hasn’t even made any schematic adjustments yet — and he will.
It’s going to take a while for the Thunder to get used to life without Ibaka, but will they right the ship in time?