DENVER — When Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka returned to his locker room after Game 3 on Saturday night, he was not swarmed by teammates offering congratulations.
You'd think some might be in order, given what the 21-year-old had just done in a 97-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets inside the Pepsi Center.
Ibaka set single-game career highs in rebounds (16) and made free throws (10), tied career highs in points (22), minutes (39) and free-throw attempts (10) and also blocked four shots to help give the Thunder a 3-0 series lead.
The reason no one inside the OKC locker room poured Gatorade over Ibaka's head was because teammates frequently have seen his flashes of brilliance in practice.
"For my teammates, this was no surprise," Ibaka said as the clock approached midnight on Saturday. "They know I can do it because every day when we practice I go hard. I do that kind of stuff. Maybe for you guys (media) or the fans that's a surprise. But for my teammates, is no surprise."
Center Kendrick Perkins was the only other Thunder player still in the locker room and was seated roughly five feet away. Perkins confirmed he was not surprised by what Ibaka had just done and explained why.
"He's around a great team. He's around great guys who teach him," Perkins said. "I told him when I first got here that he should be the best defensive player on the court at all times. He's got the capability. He's got the talent, and his offense is getting great. You can tell. He's shooting his jumper with confidence. He's making great post moves, and he's rebounding the basketball."
A second-year player from the Republic of Congo, Ibaka averaged 9.9 points and 7.6 rebounds during the regular season. As his steady ascent toward stardom continues, there will come a time when those outside the OKC locker room no longer are surprised by what he achieves.
Take this series, for example. In the eyes of Thunder coach Scott Brooks, what happened with Ibaka in Game 1 was a surprise and what happened in Game 3 was not.