MIAMI — LeBron James didn't need any more motivation.
Serge Ibaka gave him some anyway.
Ibaka, the starting power forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder, said Monday that James is “not a good defender.”
“He can play defense for two or three minutes but not 48 minutes,” Ibaka was quoted as saying by the Palm Beach Post.
Ibaka, according to the paper, went on to say “LeBron can't play (Kevin Durant) one-on-one. They're playing good defense like a team.
On Tuesday, following the Heat's morning shootaround prior to Game 4, James fired back.
“I don't really care what he says,” James said. “He's…”
“Stupid,” he said.
“Everyone says something to me every series then (the media) keeps trying to get a quote.”
Immediately, James was informed that his “stupid” comment just supplied it. The three-time MVP then attempted to clarify his words.
“It's not toward him, though,” James said. “It's not. I don't really care what he says. It's stupid.”
Ibaka wasn't available to the media following the Thunder's shootaround. Ibaka finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind New York center Tyson Chandler after leading the league in blocked shots.
James, meanwhile, reiterated that he's doesn't view the marquee matchup between him and Durant as a one-on-one battle.
“As a defender, I just try to make plays and try to keep my body in front of a great player,” James said, referring to Durant. “I'm not guarding him for 48 minutes. But when I'm on him, I'm just trying to make it tough for him to make shots, which he's going to make. I'm not sitting here saying I'm the Durant-stopper. There's no such thing.”
Durant stood up for his teammate when he addressed Ibaka's comments Tuesday morning.
“Serge believes in me, and he believes in what we do here,” said Durant. “He's just taking up for me and taking up for our whole team. LeBron is a good defender. I tell him that. He's a good defender. But it's not about him. It's about us and what we can do. So we can't come into the game worried about how he's going to guard me, how he's going to guard (Russell Westbrook), how he's going to guard James (Harden). We can't worry about that. We just got to play our game. That's basically what Serge was saying. Just play my game.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks chimed in with words that came closer to echoing Ibaka's sentiments rather than shoot them down. Brooks point: neither James nor Durant can guard each other individually.
“I do know this,” Brooks started. “Just like how we feel about LeBron, you can't guard LeBron just with one guy. You just can't do it. The guy is so good, so strong, so explosive offensively, and they probably feel the same way about Kevin. One guy is not going to be able to stop Kevin. He's going to need a team behind his defender. And we're the same way. We have to have one guy guard LeBron but four guys making sure he doesn't get easy opportunities in the paint. So I think both side probably feel the same way.”
But James' sidekick, Dwyane Wade, perhaps put it best.
“I don't think LeBron James needs any more motivation,” Wade said.
As for last year's beef between Durant and Heat forward Chris Bosh, the feud has ended, according to Bosh.
Following a late January home loss to the Heat, Durant called Bosh a “fake tough guy.”
“At the last All-Star Game we squashed that,” Bosh said Tuesday morning. “We just said, ‘Hey, man, let's move on.'”
Bosh, who is averaging 12 points and a personal postseason-best 10.3 in the Finals, said he hasn't used Durant's comments as motivation for this series.
“I'm not the kind of player that really feeds off that stuff,” Bosh said. “I'm my own worst critic. So I just have to stay within myself and make sure I get the best out of myself rather than giving somebody else the power to evoke that from me.”