This time, there is no scapegoat.
There is no one person or one play to which all of Oklahoma can pin the blame for the Thunder’s latest postseason misfortune.
This time, there is no boneheaded action, only what appears to be bad luck.
Serge Ibaka’s season, in all likelihood, has come to an end.
The Thunder on Friday evening announced that its starting power forward is expected to miss the remainder of the postseason with a left calf injury. He sustained the injury midway through the third quarter of Thursday night’s series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles.
The timing couldn’t be worse, as the Thunder is two days from opening the Western Conference Finals at San Antonio. A once-promising season now appears to be in peril because of nothing more than a freak accident.
“It’s not something that we have great clarity on as to a specific event or acute incident,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said when asked the source of Ibaka’s injury. “We just know that obviously it’s not something that Serge was able to play through. And we all know him, the last thing he wants to do is miss any time on the floor. But this is one that needed to be looked at pretty closely.”
It’s the second straight postseason that the Thunder has had a starter suffer a season-ending injury. Last year, point guard Russell Westbrook sustained a torn lateral meniscus in the first round, an injury that derailed the Thunder’s title hopes.
In that instance, Houston guard Patrick Beverley crashed into Westbrook’s knee after he had already motioned for a timeout. It was a play that most viewed as unnecessary at best and downright dirty at worst.
But there is no explanation, or face for which Thunder fans can aim their collective frustration, for Ibaka’s injury.
The only similarity is that both could be crippling blows to the Thunder’s championship hopes.
Ibaka’s injury has been diagnosed as a Grade 2 strain, according to Presti. The injured region of the calf is called the plantaris, or the upper portion of a person’s calf, just behind the knee.
“The recovery process is lengthy because the re-injury rate is so extraordinarily high,” Presti said. “Healing is one aspect, but strengthening is an entirely different one. And I think it’s important to stress here that the severity of the injury is not long-term concerning. But the timing of when it occurred, given where we are in the season and how deep we’ve played, that’s an unfortunate part to this.”
With its wording in announcing the injury, the Thunder appeared to leave a glimmer of hope that Ibaka might be able to return this postseason. The team said Ibaka “is expected to miss the remainder of the 2014 postseason.” Presti, though, essentially put an end to such thoughts.
“It’s never easy to put timetables on recoveries. We’ve seen that before,” he said. “But we are also putting a timetable out there that extends past where the season would end. So it would be unlikely he would return if we were fortunate enough to make it past this next series, which we know is going to be a challenge for us.”
Team officials did not make Ibaka available to the media after Thursday night’s series-clinching win against the Clippers. Ibaka was said to be “getting treatment” for the injury, and media members were ushered out while being instructed that the locker room was closing.
No players were available to the media Friday because the Thunder did not practice. But the Thunder will resume practice Saturday in Oklahoma City.
“We wanted to get as much information as we could before making any final determinations,” Presti said. “But based on the information that was determined (Friday), we feel we’ve got a pretty good handle on the severity of where it is.”
Ibaka was expected to be a key player for the Thunder against the Spurs because of his athleticism, shot-blocking, rebounding and shooting ability. He averaged 14 points, 11.5 rebounds and four blocked shots in four games against San Antonio this season.
Before his injury, Ibaka was enjoying his best postseason of his career, with averages of 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.23 blocked shots. He was shooting 61.6 percent from the field. In the regular season, Ibaka averaged career highs of 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds, while leading the league in total blocked shots for the fourth consecutive season.
It’s unclear who will start in Ibaka’s place. Veteran forward Nick Collison replaced Ibaka after the injury occurred, but second-year forward Perry Jones III started in place of Ibaka in the lone game he missed during the regular season. The Thunder also could move Kevin Durant to power forward and rely on a smaller lineup.
OKC also spent more time than ever before this year developing players such as Jones, guards Jeremy Lamb and Andre Roberson and rookie center Steven Adams. All four could be looked to for contributions in this series with San Antonio.
And with more options than ever before, the Thunder could be better equipped to overcome this injury than it was Westbrook’s last year.
“In pro sports, you have to deal with the unexpected. And this is one of those cases,” Presti said. “It’s what you do in advance of that, and I think we’re more prepared than we have been in the past to deal with something like this. And now we have to apply that.”