Serge Ibaka looked like he'd just been shot, as if somewhere high in the Toyota Center stands lurked a sniper, whose scope had been locked squarely on the front of his road blue No. 9 jersey.
After missing the game's most important shot Monday night at Houston, a stick-back attempt from point-blank range, Ibaka whipped his head back, and then his body, and then crumpled to the court.
As he remained on his backside, Ibaka put both arms over his head. He couldn't believe what he had just done.
He had just cost the Thunder the closeout game at Houston.
“It was tough. It was tough,” Ibaka said Tuesday, a day later. “I wanted to try to save my team, and it didn't happen. It was tough for me.”
On the list of Thunder players who didn't deserve to deal with that amount of agony, Ibaka ranked a close second to Kevin Durant.
The Thunder power forward has been the team's second best player in this series. He carried averages of 15.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocked shots into Game 4. He had been shooting 61.3 percent.
“It was my first time to be in that position, you know?” Ibaka tried to explain.
“I didn't sleep last night, man.”
Ibaka's teammates hurried over to help peel Ibaka off the court. Even in the immediate moments that followed the heartbreaking sound of the final horn, the Thunder made it a point to keep Ibaka's spirits' high.
“He felt he had the easy putback, and that was probably the case,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But it's like I've said many times. You can play 100 possessions and a lot of times it ends up in the last possession and sometimes you think that's the possession that lost the game. But there's so many other possessions.
“That was a scramble play. It wasn't executed the way we wanted it to be. But when you have defenses that are guarding you, you're going to have to do things on the fly and you have to use your intelligence.”
The play was drawn up for Durant.
Thabo Sefolosha inbounded the ball to the team's leading scorer and he went to work. But with Francisco Garcia smothering him, Durant couldn't create enough separation to go for a potential game-winning 3-pointer. He eventually had to pass to Reggie Jackson.
Jackson, after fumbling the pass, had little choice but to attack the basket when the clock showed just four seconds remaining by the time he got the ball under control. After beating his defender, Chandler Parsons, off the dribble, Jackson slithered his way into the paint only to meet Rockets center Omer Asik. The two met in midair. There was heavy contact. Jackson's took the bump and got a shot to the rim anyway.
It fell short.
“I thought Reggie did a good job of attacking,” Brooks said.
Ibaka was left all alone after Jackson forced Asik to step up and challenge the initial shot. But only four-tenths of a second remained when Ibaka got his paws on the rebound. Not nearly enough time to catch, gather and go back up strong.
Ibaka instead batted the ball, almost volleyball style, back at the rim.
It hung on the back left of the rim for what felt like an eternity but in actuality was only a split second before, finally, it fell harmlessly off the cylinder and to the ground.
Ibaka looked sick as the ball trickled away, similar to his reaction in the Thunder's Game 6 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
“He had a chance to make a play and he didn't,” Brooks said. “I like guys that care about winning and Serge definitely does. He plays with a lot of emotion and a lot of passion. But he's fine today.”
Ibaka insists he'll learn from it.
“The good thing about it is we have one more game (Wednesday),” Ibaka said. “Like I said, for me, that was my first time to be in that position. It didn't happen, so now I know how it feels and I'm going to move on.”