MIAMI, Fla. — So it's come to this: The power forward who blocks shots in five languages, the guy whose comments about LeBron James' defense got lost in translation, is giving motivational speeches.
“In English, actually,” said James Harden.
Should the Thunder write the greatest comeback story in NBA Finals history and rally back from a 3-1 deficit against the Miami Heat, Serge Ibaka's comments to and about Harden are bound for embellishment.
Think Nelson Mandela in “Invictus” meets “Knute Rockne All-American.”
For perspective, we go to Thunder center/sage Kendrick Perkins.
“Serge has some positive things to say to James today,” Perk deadpanned, but with feeling.
Said Ibaka: “I wanted to address a message to my teammates that we need to stick together and we need to believe that we can do it. We addressed Kevin, guys who can make some crazy plays and make us all achieve better.
“My message was to make them to believe that we can do it because we've been working hard to be here. We still have one more chance. It's not over yet. We believe all together, and we will try to go for it again tomorrow.”
Is it all talk? We'll know tonight, but consider Ibaka's speech the oratory equivalent of the Thunder's man-down, hand-down credo. You don't get much more down than The Beard has been this week in South Beach. The People's Choice for playmaker at crunch time has the misfortune of playing perhaps the worst back-to-back offensive games of his career with the world watching.
His consecutive 2-of-10 shooting performances coupled with indecisive, hesitant play have made it easy to blame Harden for Oklahoma City's predicament.
On a day when many were, Air Congo swooped in to tell Harden he believes.
“He (Ibaka) said I have to go out there and attack, be a beast, be a monster out there on the court,” Harden said. “That really meant a lot. That really got me up a little bit.”
Thunder general manager Sam Presti called after Game 4 to remind Harden why he drafted him No. 3 overall. And the Sixth Man of the Year is confident he'll be that player again, in this series, Thursday night, at American Airlines Arena.
Bruised left hand and all.
Said Harden, “All the little things like that help me, helps everybody in the locker room, have that positive energy we need right now.”
There are no NBA models for what the Thunder is attempting. None of the 13 teams that trailed 3-1 even forced a Game 7.
Presti, a son of New England and a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, could evoke the 2004 Bosox' rally from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the American League Championship series.
Ibaka could be Kevin Millar, warning everyone, “Don't let us win tonight.” Harden's bruised hand could stand for Curt Schilling's bloody sock. LeBron James' Miami Heat could play the role of Alex Rodriguez's Yankees. But that's not the Thunder Way.
Here's what is:
It's Kevin Durant talking about playing for “a city that never gives up,” a city longing for a Game 6 in Chesapeake Energy Arena. OK, for a Game 7, too.
It's tuning out the noise and analysis and remembering Oklahoma City had a shot to tie or lead in the final 67 seconds of all three loss to Miami. This is as close as a 3-1 series can be.
It's having its young stars — Durant, Harden and Russell Westbrook — in attack mode and getting the ball in their hands with the game on the line.
Will it work? Does the Thunder have what it takes to write a historic comeback? Does Harden need to follow ESPN's Jalen Rose's advice and shave his beard?
“They're always dangerous,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Come on, this series has been decided by four or five plays every single game.
“It still comes down to making those winning plays. These are months of habits of building it, and you can't over think it. At that point in the moment of truth you've got to trust your instincts and just make it happen.”