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Oklahoma City Thunder: Silver lining in Serge Ibaka’s poor game

by Berry Tramel Published: May 30, 2012

I don’t know if the Thunder is going to be able to stop the Spurs. Certainly doesn’t seem so if the last five quarters are any indication. San Antonio has scored 39, 28, 27, 37 and 28 points. The Spurs have made 59 of 98 shots, 60.2 percent, over those 60 minutes.

To win a game, much less the series, the Thunder is going to have to stay up with the Spurs. And that means you, Serge Ibaka. Don’t look now, but Ibaka played awful offensively in Game 2 Tuesday night. He was 3-of-11 from the field. Worse, he was weak with the ball. Serge got the ball under the basket several times and failed to get it through the hoop. He’d lose it going up or he’d bounce it off the rim or he’d fumble it into Spur hands.

I know the Spurs are tough. I know Tim Duncan is a Hall of Famer, and Tiago Splitter is a big ol’ Brazilian, and Boris Diaw is solid, and Stephen Jackson is a street fighter. But still. They’re not Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol. Ibaka is strong and can jump through the roof. Stick the ball in the hoop.

If you had never seen the Thunder play before Game 2, you’d come away thinking Ibaka was no more effective offensively than Kendrick Perkins, who we know is offensively-challenged. Perk was no better in the paint Tuesday night — 1-of-5 — but nobody pretends than Gran Torino should score.

It’s different for Ibaka. He should be helping out Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the scoring total. He should be good for eight, 10, 12 points on the six or seven shots he gets. Give Ibaka 11 shots, and he should be in the 15-16 points range. Instead, Ibaka scored six.

The good news, of course, is that the foolish franchises around the NBA, of which there are many, will look at this game and be  hesitant to throw a huge contract at him. Ibaka becomes a restricted free agent in summer 2013 and an unrestricted free agent in summer 2014. The Thunder can sign him to a contract extension this summer and would like to. But the Thunder can’t pay Ibaka $15 million a year or something outrageous.

Teams pay for offense. Always have, always will. Games like this one will hold down Ibaka’s market value. Which is good news for the Thunder but doesn’t help in this series.

Ibaka was again great at protecting the basket, with four blocked shots. His pick-and-roll defense wasn’t all that good — the Thunder played little good defense — and Ibaka offered no evidence that Scotty Brooks messed up by sitting Ibaka the entire fourth quarter of Game 1. The Thunder played some defense early in the fourth quarter, but down the stretch, the Spurs carved up the Thunder just like the rest of the game.

Ibaka — and his teammates — will get better defensively in this series. That’s the nature of playoff basketball. Especially for young teams, it’s a learning process. The Spurs, even, have adjusted. They adjusted quickly, because they’re a bunch of veterans or are led by veterans. They were not ready for the Thunder’s long arms and quick feet and nifty anticipation. That’s why San Antonio was so awful early in Game 1. The Thunder got its hands on every other pass, it seemed like. Thabo Sefolosha had four steals in the first eight minutes of Game 1. But the Spurs adjusted and resumed their efficient ways.

The Thunder will adjust, too. But not enough to slow the Spurs down into a huff-and-puff offense. San Antonio is going to score in this series. The Thunder will have to score, too. And Serge Ibaka is going to have to help out.


by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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