It was a performance for the ages, yet now it's a night that Serge Ibaka would rather forget.
“I know it was an incredible performance,” Ibaka sheepishly admits. “But I don't think it's good for me to keep thinking about…I think about it more as a game we won. It was big for us.”
It was June 2, the night Ibaka put on a perfect shooting display in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Thunder's power forward stunned the Spurs by scoring a playoff career-high 26 points on 11 of 11 shooting.
“We needed every basket,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “If he was 10-for-11, we might not have won.”
The Thunder clinched a 109-103 win that night, evening the series at two games apiece and gaining enough momentum to knock out the Spurs and set up an NBA Finals showdown with Miami.
Ibaka finished one made field goal shy of tying the NBA postseason record for most field goals made without a miss. Larry McNeill went 12-for-12 in 1975. Scott Wedman in 1985 went 11-for-11, the only other player in NBA playoff history to do so.
“I didn't know (during the game),” Ibaka said of his flawless accuracy. “I just kept shooting. I had confidence. I was hot. And my teammates…kept passing the ball and I kept shooting.”
And shooting…and shooting.
“And he made tough shots,” Brooks said. “He made shots with guys in his face. He made jump shots. He made inside shots. They weren't all gimmes.”
You could see Ibaka grow more confident as he canned each shot.
He pointed to Kendrick Perkins after the first basket, thanking his teammate for the assist.
He clapped his hands with a more determined look while backpedaling on defense after his third make, his second straight jumper.
He flashed his patented “Air Congo” wings after his fourth bucket, a dunk set up by Derek Fisher.
He left his follow through hanging just a tad longer after knocking down his sixth field goal, a baseline jumper set up by Kevin Durant.
By the time he popped the front of his jersey, enlarging the “THUNDER” emblazoned across his chest following his eighth straight field goal, Ibaka had long passed confident. He was unconscious.
“He was relaxed and settled in and did what we needed him to do,” Perkins said. “But I thought we got him the ball early, which got him some easy buckets and got him going which will help anybody's confidence.”
Ibaka had one field goal in the opening quarter, five in the second, three in the third and two in the fourth. Nine of his 11 field goals came off assists — three from Durant, two from James Harden and one apiece from Fisher, Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook.
Seven of Ibaka's field goals came with the margin standing at seven points or less, and six of his baskets were from 15 feet and beyond.
Marv Albert and Reggie Miller grew more mesmerized by the minute while calling the game for TNT, Albert putting emphasis on each syllable Serge Ibaka's name as only he can.
Most impressive was how Ibaka scooted to perfection.
He set screens, he moved without the ball, he flashed to the passer with fluid cuts and he floated into open spaces. On each trip, Ibaka made sure he was ready to receive a pass, keeping his hands high above his waist and his feet set when positioned to catch and shoot.
Ibaka shockingly doesn't consider that June night as his best offensive performance. He didn't name another that tops his list. The only other that comes close is Nov. 15, 2010, when Ibaka scored regular season career high 22 points at Utah, making nine of 13 shots.
“The good thing about it,” Ibaka said, “is it was the right moment, a moment where my team needed it; a big moment, a conference final.”
In typical Thunder fashion, no one is blowing the performance out of proportion. While still amazed at what Ibaka did that night, everyone who witnessed it is quick to point out that it was just one game.
“I don't put a lot into it,” Brooks said. “I like to (judge) players (on) consistency. I'd rather have a player who's solid all year long instead of great games and bad games, great games and bad games.”
Ibaka strives for that same steadiness, which is why he's over that one magical night. He also knows his role as the fourth offensive option (at best) on the Thunder and understands that he rarely will get as many looks as he did in that Game 4.
“It's not going to happen every night,” Ibaka said. “The thing I can control is keep working hard and playing my game. When the time will come, it will come.”
But that's what made June 2 so special.
It was a moment when potential turned into production and when 41 minutes left everyone salivating over what exactly is in store for the future.
“To me the sky's the limit for Serge,” said Perkins. “I feel like all he's got to do is just continue to work and continue to try to get better.
“If he gets it in his mind that he wants to be one of the top power forwards in the league, it's not hard for him.”
THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION
A look back at how Serge Ibaka delivered an 11-for-11 shooting performance in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.
1-1: After Kevin Durant got double-teamed on the right baseline, he fired a pass to Kendrick Perkins just below the foul line. Perkins immediately made the extra pass to a cutting Ibaka on the left baseline for a double-clutching layup. Thunder 7, Spurs 13.
2-2: A routine pick-and-pop with James Harden left Ibaka wide open for a mid-range jumper from the top of the key. Thunder 28, Spurs 28.
3-3: Thabo Sefolosha drew the defense by looking to attack, leaving Ibaka open above the foul line for a mid-range jumper. Thunder 32, Spurs 28.
4-4: Derek Fisher blew by his man on the left wing and drew the defense. When he did, Ibaka cut down the middle of the lane, caught a pass from Fisher and threw down a two-hand dunk. Thunder 38, Spurs 37.
5-5: Ibaka trailed Kevin Durant on a high ball screen, putting him in perfect position to scoop up a loose ball after Khawi Leonard stripped Durant on a drive. Ibaka finished the play with a one-hand dunk. Thunder 45, Spurs 35.
6-6: A drive by Durant drew Tim Duncan off Ibaka, leaving him free in the left corner for a jump shot. Thunder 47, Spurs 38.
7-7: This was Ibaka's signature play from his perfect night. Initially spotting up in the left corner as an outlet for Durant, Ibaka received the pass from Durant and instead of settling for another jumper blew by Duncan. As he did, Ibaka cradled the ball while swooping across the lane before throwing down a monster one-handed dunk. Thunder 59, Spurs 48.
8-8: Ibaka spot up on the left elbow for a catch-and-shoot off a feed from Russell Westbrook. Thunder 68, Spurs 53.
9-9: When Durant began to post up Stephen Jackson, all five Spurs defenders locked in on him. Once they did, Ibaka dove to the open area at the foul line, took a pass from Durant and buried a jumper over a late-contesting Duncan. Thunder 70, Spurs 57.
10-10: Ibaka spot up in the left corner and nailed a jumper off a drive-and-kick from James Harden. Thunder 77, Spurs 71.
11-11: Ibaka's easiest bucket of the night was his last, a simple tip-in off a miss by Harden. Thunder 86, Spurs 79.