For 11 inefficient games, Serge Ibaka struggled mightily to adjust to life without Russell Westbrook, raising valid questions about whether he needed his All-Star point guard to fully function.
But during the three most crucial minutes of Sunday's wild 106-105 overtime win over Washington, the Thunder big man tried his best to squash that narrative.
“Obviously, he's had some big games for us,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said of Ibaka. “Today has to be up there (with his best).”
Westbrook was ejected with 3:18 to play. The Thunder trailed by 10. Any faint hope seemed long out the window.
Then, in one of the wildest late-game turnarounds you'll see, OKC went on a 14-4 run to tie it by the end of regulation.
And it was all sparked by the aggressive play of Ibaka.
With two minutes left, he hit a crucial six-foot jumper. With 80 seconds left, he had a massive defensive rebound. With 70 seconds left, he flushed in a monster dunk. With 34 seconds left, he kept hope alive with a huge offensive rebound putback.
In all, the spurt included only six of his 25 points and three of his 10 rebounds.
But the timing of the plays, and the fact that he made them following Westbrook's departure, made them all the more monumental.
“He was great offensive rebounding, knocking down shots,” Kevin Durant said. “He was just aggressive all night. I'm proud of him.”
In the end, Durant was the hero, drilling the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation and leading the team with four points in overtime.
“You never feel like it's over when you got a guy named Kevin Durant on the other side,” said Wizards star John Wall, who missed a game-winning layup at the buzzer.
But Durant has stepped up in the clutch before. Many times, in fact. The late 3-pointer was his 12th career game-tying shot in the last 24 seconds, the most in the NBA since 2007-08, per ESPN Stats.
Ibaka, however, hasn't been counted on much in the clutch before. And before Sunday night, his struggles without Westbrook, as second-fiddle, were well-documented.
So of all the late-game heroics (and there were plenty), Ibaka's performance might have been the most encouraging.
His interior dominance was the biggest key to helping Thunder overcome a late 12-point deficit, the franchise's largest fourth quarter comeback since moving to OKC.
“That last thee minutes was some of the best basketball I've seen out of us since I've been here,” Durant said.
And that's particularly applicable to Serge Ibaka.