Serge Ibaka reportedly on the mend, could return for Game 3

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“I don’t believe it. I’ll believe it when I see it.”

These were Tony Parker’s words after being questioned by the media about Serge Ibaka’s injury last week, one that was initially reported to be essentially season-ending. The Thunder released a statement in the late afternoon on May 16, declaring their starting power forward likely out for the remainder of the postseason. I guess likely was the key word.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports dropped a Woj Bomb at lunch on Friday (because of course it was Woj) that Ibaka has now been upgraded to day-to-day by Oklahoma City, and that he might even be available to play in Game 3 on Sunday. Reports are the swelling in Ibaka’s left calf has gone down significantly and that the big man responded well to tests on Thursday, though there is still soreness.

Here’s the official statement from general manager Sam Presti:

“The abundance of blood and therefore swelling in Serge’s calf has reduced substantially and unexpectedly, allowing a level of movement and stability not thought possible after the initial diagnosis. Based on both imaging and physical exam, the considerable swelling in the calf indicated the likelihood of a certain degree of injury, and that established the original time frame for recovery. At present, Serge has yet to complete a full basketball workout, but is walking and doing light basketball drills. With this new information, and in an effort to keep his status current, we are now listing him as day-to-day with the understanding that there is a possibility for him to play in this series.”

Well I’ll be damned. I can assure you, the group of people least surprised by this news is the one in that San Antonio locker room. And to think, that Parker quote was met with such hostility from OKC fans who interpreted it as an accusation of dishonesty toward the Thunder. Tin-foil Tony solving conspiracy theories in his spare time, I’m sure.

Anyway, the media had a chance to ask Gregg Popovich about the newest Ibaka news on Friday afternoon.

“Shocked,” Pop elaborated. “We know Sammy (Presti). We knew (Ibaka would) be back.”

So here we go. If you’ve been conscious and coherent over the last week or so, you understand by now how much the Thunder miss Ibaka. He’s their safety net, their mistake-erasor, their rim-protector, their goaltender, their pressure valve, their stretch ‘four’ and whatever the hell else on earth you wanna call him. It’s a much different game when Ibaka is on the court. Suddenly, Russell Westbrook’s “I’m an overgrown puppy chasing a soccer ball around” defense is much less detrimental when he knows he has backup, OKC’s aggressive scrambling scheme is much more difficult to exploit and the frontcourt depth is back, allowing the Thunder to utilize their preferred big-man pairings.

The Spurs are shooting a mind-boggling 76.8 percent from inside the restricted area, and because of that assault on the rim are launching away from the perimeter at a 45-percent clip. They’ve averaged 116 points over the first two games, including a combined 120 points in the paint. So the going’s been easy for San Antonio thus far in the Western Conference Finals.

And really, who the hell knows just how effective Ibaka can be if he’s able to return? Is this like a David Lee thing from last year, when he made a couple of brief, inspirational appearances for preacher Mark Jackson during the Warriors playoff run? Was the prognosis on the injury really that far off? Out for the rest of the postseason, out for a week … meh, same difference, bro.

Regardless, this is big news, simply by virtue of the fact there’s suddenly a morale boost in Oklahoma City. If that’s the only effect this news had, it still might be worth it. San Antonio has so thoroughly dominated the Thunder through two games that any little thing like this probably helps. Ibaka’s presence would absolutely make a difference, especially if he’s effective, but the Spurs have been ready for this.

You’ve seen and heard the quotes already, and their level of play has been evident: San Antonio hasn’t relaxed one little bit, and through it all has prepared as if the OKC shot-swatting crazy man was set to play. This adds an extra element of intrigue, but isn’t that why we all watch, after all? What good is entertainment without a little fun?

We’ll keep you posted as we learn more.

Quotes courtesy of Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News.

  • Brandon

    Bring it on… although a one-legged Ibaka is probably better than a two-legged Kendrick Chewbacca.

  • Fred

    this is great news!
    OKC will be without EXCUSES now.
    Go Spurs go!

  • spurs10

    This will be equally inspiring for both teams. I’m sure 2012 was enough inspiration to go there determined to bury these guys, but this will only help to keep us focused! Love Pop’s reaction! Every little thing that feeds the anger and will of our team is a great thing.

  • mudyez

    “their goaltender”…LOL

  • Martin

    I think Spurs are 4-1 against teams that kicked them out of the playoffs any of the previous 3 years. the only lost series is against the Lakers during their three peat from 02 thru 04

  • spurs10

    I wonder if Ibaka’s agent wants him coming back. If he returns and they lose then all of a sudden his value is not so great. Not to mention him getting re-injured.

  • Riotsmoke

    This seems a whole lot like another “experimentation through desperation” move if you ask me… It’s plainly obvious that Scott Brooks has absolutely no idea how to solve the defensive nightmare that the Spurs present, so instead of actually coming up with a solid coaching plan, they’ve decided to just insert an injured player into the game for his emotional value. Screw the fact that he could still be limited physically, they;re apparently pot-committed to this season regardless of what the repercussions are. Is anyone else reminded of the last 20 minutes of “Varsity Blues” reading this article?

  • Lee

    You realized Spurs won the championship in 2003, right?

  • Graham

    If only that were true. Now it’s “If only Ibaka were 100%” instead of “If only we had Ibaka”

  • Graham

    Probably meant 2000 thru 2002

  • Chris FOM

    Yeah. The only team I can think of that took 2 series in a row from the Spurs is the Lakers, twice (01 and 02, then 04 and 08, although in the latter case the 04 and 08 Lakers were barely the same team).

  • junierizzle

    Spurs have won by a margin of 52 points over two games. Is Ibaka really that good? Or is he that good against the Spurs?

  • Dapimp Ofdayear

    Those were my exact sentiments. I’d be pissed right now if I were his agent. Ibaka’s a 25 year old defensive stud with a long future ahead of him, and the Thunder are going to let a blowout loss force him to come back before he’s ready, risking re-injury. With him being limited, he’s no better than, say, Steven Adams or Nick Collison. And do you really want to be sending your team the message that you can’t win unless an injured guy comes back? So what if he’s not ready for Game 3? What then? Terrible move by the Thunder front office to leak this news.

  • Saxmann

    Put Baynes on him and just an accidental bump on his calf will send him straight back to rehab.

  • chromao

    I believe OKC will insert Ibaka into the game just for the emotional value to the team and home crowd. But.let’s not get overconfident by the 2-0 series and margin of victories so far. Even without Ibaka or with a hobbling Ibaka, this is still a very dangerous team, and a resounding OKC victory sunday, or a injury to one of our key players, can easily turn things around. Luckly the Spurs seem to be very focused to not let this opportunity slip away

  • Eric Westerman

    Apparently, the risk of reinjury is high – but it would likely just be a re-strain, which could take a month or two to heal (but not long lasting effects on his career). If he can endure what every pain is remaining, it’s probably not that big of a risk. However, if he tries to play through some legit pain – that’s when guys overcompensate and injure something more serious. That’s what I would be fearful of.

  • Eric Westerman

    Spurs should be very confident. But for all the destruction they laid to OKC the past 2 games, the Thunder are still just one win from being right back in it. (On the flip side, Spurs are one win from putting a stranglehold on OKC)

  • Kristian Holvoet

    And honestly, don’t you think the Spurs are a little pissed about this transparent Willis Reed attempt? If Serge is in, don’t you think Tim and Tiago are going to make him move A LOT to see if his leg really is healed? If the Spurs were a 10 going to the hoop, wouldn’t they be motivated to turn it to 11 just to knock this nonsense out?

    (This is different than the Paul George concussion, which really probably is day to day, and the next few games for Indy are in Miami anyway.)

  • spurs10

    Yes, I do believe the Spurs are “a little pissed’ about a lot of things. I’m surprised Presti doesn’t know this is only going have us more focused on beating them. There is a saying that comes to mind “Don’t poke the bear!”

  • Tim in Surrey

    Same coach and same leader, though, which I suspect is the secret.

  • SpurredOn

    I know that I can not recall the absence of a playoff team’s third best player receiving so much attention. We were told it was OKC’s overwhelming roster of “length & athleticism” that so confounds the Spurs. One guy goes out and they’re no longer long or athletic? Perhaps then their team defense was over-valued, helped the prior two rounds by teams that don’t have great shooting.

    This is being treated as more swaying of a series than Derrick Rose in 2012, and far more than Manu’s absence in 2009. For that matter, we’ve all seen a severely hobbled Manu in the 2008 WCF that was incorrectly chalked up more to age than a severely sprained ankle. And that series was competitive.

    OKC’s defense is hobbled without Ibaka, no doubt. But the comparison constantly being used is what the Spurs did vs OKC during the reg season. One then ignores the absence of Kawhi (perhaps more important to SA than is Ibaka to OKC), Green and Splitter in those games. And, since when have the playoff Spurs been an equal comparison to the reg season crew? Ask Portland.

  • idahospur

    This is the difference in organizations. Injuries can happen at any time. But since the Thunder pay basically the same rotation and starting unit all year this team was not prepared for Ibaka to go down. The Spurs would struggle with any serious injury but know how to adjust and would not look out of place.
    O, ne thing I do worry about is the Spurs looked good last year in the playoffs and swept the Grizzled before making the Finals. Hopefully they remember this as well. This tram reminds me of the old bad boy Pistons where they kept getting close but some other team got in the way. Spurs had to wait out the Lakers, get past the up and comer teams like Thunder, Warriors, and Grizzlies. And have to finally get past the Heat.
    Finish strong.
    Go Spurs Go!

  • WildGorgh

    This Mind game and report assume that OKC player are playing to their potential is wrong and ignoring the fact that Spurs defence making them look like they are not giving their %100. Go Spurs Go.

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