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Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka discuss their injuries before Game 5

by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 29, 2014

Thunder's Serge Ibaka, center, tells Reggie Jackson, left, to give the ball to Kevin Durant in the second half of an NBA basketball game where the Oklahoma City Thunder were defeated 95-93 by the Brooklyn Nets at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Thunder's Serge Ibaka, center, tells Reggie Jackson, left, to give the ball to Kevin Durant in the second half of an NBA basketball game where the Oklahoma City Thunder were defeated 95-93 by the Brooklyn Nets at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
The biggest questions going into Game 5 for the Thunder is the status of two of the team’s starters, Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka. Jackson rolled his right ankle early in Game 4 but sounds as if he’s blocking out whatever pain and discomfort he might be feeling entering Thursday’s contest.

“I’ll be ready at tip-off,” Jackson said. “I’m not really worried about it. Mentally just get through it. No excuses. I’m just ready to play…When game time comes, I have no injury. That’s about as much as I can say for it. I’m going to be able to do what I normally do. I have to mentally push through it and go out there and play the way I play.”

Jackson said all the players have tried to stay off their feet as much as possible over the past two days, so his lack of activity since the injury hasn’t been out of the norm. He said he tested his ankle a bit at shootaround but other than that has rested it outside of just getting around.

By the time Jackson strolled over to the media, he already had both shoes off. He wore a pair of sandals, with a sock on his left foot and no sock on his right, which was wrapped with ice at the ankle and chin.

“It’s feeling all right,” Jackson said.

IBAKA ADMITS HE’S NOT 100 PERCENT
As he continues to recover from a left calf strain, Ibaka says playing through his injury is more mental than physical.

“If you saw the last two games, physically I was not 100 percent yet because I did really nothing for, like, 10 days,” Ibaka said. “I just came back and started playing. So I think it’s more mental than physical.”

But as he prepares for Game 5, Ibaka said he is more comfortable now than he was in his return for Game 3.

“I got more confidence right now, more than the first game,” he said. “But I’m still not yet 100 percent. So I will keep working and keep icing and see day by day.”

Ibaka said he surprised himself at how effective he his first two games back.

“A little bit,” he said. “Because the first game when I came back, in the morning I was not sure yet if I was going to be able to play that night. And I was kind of scared a little bit. But like I say always, when you believe in God you’re not going to worry about nothing because he’s in control of everything. So I just left everything in his hands and I said I’m going to go play to help my teammates. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.”

Asked how his leg was feeling Thursday morning, Ibaka said it’s improving but not at the rate that he would like.

“It’s getting a little better. But it’s not going that fast,” Ibaka said. “I wish it could get better quick. But it’s getting slowly better. But the most important thing is I can be able to play with my teammates. That’s good news.”

CAN SAN ANTONIO SUCK SERGE AWAY FROM THE BASKET?
A likely adjustment for the Spurs tonight is playing small.

San Antonio could alter its starting lineup and play with one big man, or insert Boris Diaw into the lineup for Tiago Splitter. Both moves would try to get Ibaka out of the paint, where he has disrupted, if not destroyed, the rhythm of the Spurs offense from the first two games of this series.

The Thunder sounds ready for that adjustment.

“We have to be prepared,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “One thing that we all realize is they’ve won a lot of games with the lineup that they’ve started with. They won the first two games here. They won 60-something games. So whatever they do, if they’re taking out a player, they’re taking out a really good player. And they’re going to obviously replace him with a really good player. We understand that. They have five really good players on the floor at all times…We’re prepared to guard and to stick with our game plan defensively no matter who they have on the floor.”

Kevin Durant downplayed what that adjustment might mean for the Thunder.

“Nothing,” he said. “I don’t think so. It goes back down to pressuring the basketball, making them feel uncomfortable. If they pull him out from the basket, he still finds a way to get down into the paint and help out.”

Ibaka didn’t seem concerned yet, either.

“Well, we’re going to see,” he said. “We’re going to see what’s going on tonight. We’re going to see what kind of matchup it’s going to be. I’m sure our coach is going to try to change some, too. But let’s see what happens tonight when we start the game.”

PERRY JONES THE BEST ATHLETE IN THE LEAGUE?
Sam Amick, intrepid NBA writer for USA Today and all around good guy, asked Durant who is the best athlete on the Thunder.

“I think Perry Jones is the most athletic player in the league,” Durant responded.

I tweeted out Durant’s response and it was immediately met with LOLs, LMAOs and GTFOHs. But a funny thing happened. Jackson, unaware of Durant’s answer, said the same thing moments later when asked the same question. This time, he didn’t even let Amick get the question all the way out.

“Perry Jones. No comparison,” Jackson interjected. “He’s 6-10, 6-11 (and) can do everything guards do. Jumps out of the gym. Lateral ability is ridiculous. It’s not even close.”

Jackson then added, ‘I’d be surprised if anybody’s surprised by that.”

Most would assume Russell Westbrook is the most athletic on the team. But that might be confusing energy for athleticism. Anyone who’s seen PJ3 in the layup line knows how incredibly athletic he is. The dunks he throws down in those pre-game warm-ups are utterly ridiculous. So much so that it makes you wonder why he hasn’t been pegged for the dunk contest by now. But as he told me weeks ago, he’s interested in participating next year.

For more on the most-athletic-in-the-league angle, be sure to check out Amick’s piece in USA TODAY over the weekend.

WHAT’S THE MOOD OF THE TEAM?
There was a much different vibe to Thursday morning’s shootaround.

The heightened level of confidence Thunder players carried was palpable. Unlike the last time we stood inside the small high school gym where the team practices in San Antonio, you could tell that suddenly this is a series — and the Thunder knows it.

“It’s definitely different,” Westbrook said. “Now the series is tied up, 2-2. Basically how we started, 0-0. Now we got to come in and get a win.”

“We feel good,” Brooks said. “We know we have to play with a great deal of energy and toughness and teamwork. Obviously they’re going to come out and make some adjustments, and we have to be prepared for all of them.”

The memory of 2012 continues to be an unavoidable talking point. The Thunder, remember, lost the first two games of the West Finals before moving on by winning the next four. With the return of Ibaka, history has a real chance of repeating itself in this series.

But the Thunder isn’t banking solely on that experience.

“Experience helps in some ways, but we can’t totally rely on that,” Durant said. “We’ve got to go out there and execute on both ends of the floor and leave it all out there. So it’s a great opportunity.”

Westbrook was asked if he sensed the Spurs getting demoralized after their last two defeats.

“I’m not sure, man. But I know one thing, as long as we continue to play with that fire and that aggression defensively it’s going to be tough for anybody to beat us,” he said. “I’ve been saying that all season long. As long as we play with that aggression on both ends of the floor, it’s tough to beat a team like us.”

A FEW NUGGETS

  • After his monster Game 4, Westbrook said he wants to replicate one thing from that performance. “Defense,” he said without hesitation. “Regardless of what I did offensively, our defense won us the game, I thought. Defensively is where I can make my most impactful (contribution) on the game.”
  • Durant was asked how tough it is for the Thunder to play from the start with the same aggression on the road that it did at home. Here’s what he said: “I think we all thrive off the ‘Us against the world situation’ on the road. We know we’re all we got is the guys on the bench and on the floor and our coaching staff. It makes you want to play harder for them. So if we want to get to where we want to get to we have to do it, no matter where we are.”
  • A national writer was watching Kendrick Perkins shooting short jumpers at one basket while working with an assistant coach and marveled at how Perk hadn’t missed the whole time he was watching. Most outsiders probably would react the same. I had to inform the writer that Perk has actually been great this postseason, and not just defensively. Offensively as well in terms of making his shots. And so this afternoon I looked it up. And sure enough, Perk is shooting 54.5 percent this postseason. It’s his highest field goal percentage in a postseason since 2009. Oddly enough, he’s only attempting 2.6 shots per game in these playoffs. When he struggled offensively in each of the last two postseasons, he had 4.5 attempts on average despite shooting 41.6 percent in 2012 and 3.5 attempts per game in 2013 despite shooting a dismal 26.3 percent. Dare I say Perk needs more touches?

SOMETHING TO FILE AWAY
The Spurs have played five Game 7s in the Gregg Popovich era. The Thunder has played two. You would think that with all that San Antonio has been through during its incredible run that it would have more than three more Game 7s than the young Thunder. Additionally, the Thunder has won only one less Game 7 than the Spurs have in the Pop era, trailing 3-2. Both of the Thunder’s Game 7s were played at home. San Antonio has played three at home and two on the road in the Pop era. The Spurs are 2-1 at home and 1-1 on the road in Game 7s under Pop. San Antonio won the 2005 NBA Finals over the Pistons inside the AT&T Center in Game 7, lost Game 7 to the Mavs on its home floor in a 2006 semifinals and eliminated the Mavs in a Game 7 of the opening round this year. So while it’s a tall order, the Spurs can indeed be beaten at home in a Game 7. And the Thunder has a sliver of the experience needed in those situations to get it done. Remember that if a Game 7 ends up being necessary in this series.

QUOTE OF THE DAY
Westbrook when asked if he is a “momentum-believer guy” — “I’m a winner. I just want to win. That’s it.”

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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