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Jenni Carlson: Thunder's Serge Protector blocks nine shots

by Jenni Carlson Published: April 28, 2011

On Denver's next offensive possession, Nene went to the hole for a dunk but lost it on his way to the rim. Frustration showed on his face.

The Nuggets lost their cool for just a few moments, but it was enough to give the Thunder an opportunity.

OKC pounced on it.

The Thunder made every hustle play down the stretch, getting to loose balls and making little plays that made a huge difference.

“We needed it,” Thunder guard James Harden said of the hustle. “We needed every loose ball, everything down the stretch. They had a big lead on us, and we just laid it out on the court.”

No one sacrificed more than Ibaka.

“Our team is about work, and Serge is a worker,” Brooks said. “He works every day. He doesn't want anything, and he wouldn't take it. He wants to earn it.

“He is as happy as anybody; he had one point.”

That's right. Ibaka scored only one point, a second-half free throw. Only two games ago, he was the offensive star. Wednesday night, he was barely got into the scoring column.

He didn't seem to mind.

When Denver's last desperation shot bounded off the rim and the final buzzer sounded, Ibaka bounded onto the Oklahoma City Arena court. He leapt across the hardwood. He soaked in the emotion.

As the confetti dropped and the cheers reverberated, Ibaka skipped back across the hardwood. He hugged teammates. He high-fived coaches.

The ear-to-ear smile never left his face.

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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