For the second straight year, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be without one of their best players in the postseason.
Last year, it was Russell Westbrook (torn meniscus). This year, it’s Serge Ibaka (strained calf).
“It definitely hurts them,” Bleacher Report NBA analyst Jared Zwerling said on The MoJo Show. “He’s their third scorer. Reggie Jackson is an X-factor every game, but Serge is that guy outside of (Kevin) Durant and Westbrook. He’s fantastic on the pick and roll with Durant. Ibaka’s improved his outside shot. He’s very physical down low. You saw him break LeBron’s nose. He’s a tough-nosed guy. They’re going to miss his physicality for sure. That’s a huge loss. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care how you cut it.”
As a result, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, Steven Adams and Perry Jones can all expect more minutes. Unfortunately, it might not make much of a difference.
“I’m sorry, (but) for a team that needs extra scoring outside of Durant and Westbrook, they’re going to be, at times, trying to figure out how they’re going to get other scoring,” Zwerling said. “They’re going to need Reggie Jackson (to come up) huge off the bench, (and) they’re going to have to play a faster pace in the half-court sets – get more off-the- ball movement, get other guys involved. They’re not going to have their pick-and-roll staple as much as they have had with Ibaka out.”
Brian Jones, however, wonders if Ibaka’s absence is being overstated. After all, Ibaka had just six points and two rebounds in the Thunder’s Game 6 win over the Clippers. He also had just eight points and seven rebounds in Game 5 and eight points and five rebounds in Game 4.
“You have to go back to the entire series,” Zwerling said. “You look at his career, he’s evolved every single year. He’s evolved a lot. He improved his game. We saw it all regular season. He was a huge asset for the Thunder.”
Indeed, Ibaka’s scoring has risen each of the last three years, from 9.1 to 13.2 to 15.1, while his rebounding has gone from 7.5 to 7.7 to 8.8.
Ibaka also blocks shots. He had four of them in Game 4.
“The Spurs (are) tough inside,” Zwerling said. “You got Boris Diaw, you got Tiago Splitter, you got Tim Duncan – they all know how to score inside. They’re all great on the put-back game. They’re very smart. Ibaka’s a very clever, smart player. He’s meticulous. He’s a very precision-type player. His intellect is underrated. So in this series, I think he’d be very beneficial.”
Would Zwerling have picked the Thunder to win the series with Ibaka?
“I think it would go to a Game 7,” he said, “no question about it.”
Let’s not forget that the Thunder went 4-0 against the Spurs this year. Then again, Brooklyn went 4-0 against Miami.
“I don’t know if you can truly carry that over to the playoffs,” Zwerling said. “Right now, the Spurs are playing fantastic, fantastic basketball.”
Game 1 is Monday at 9 p.m. ET.