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OKC Thunder: Thunder defense had a huge void without Serge Ibaka

In its unexpected loss to Utah on Tuesday, the Thunder sorely missed Ibaka. OKC's power forward missed the game with flu-like symptoms. It's unclear if Ibaka would be available Thursday night at Denver.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: January 8, 2014

Jackson went on to note how Jazz forward Gordon Hayward's career night non-coincidentally coincided with Ibaka's absence. Hayward scored a career-high 37 points with 11 rebounds and seven assists. He made 13 of 16 shots.

“He's one of the ones that took real advantage of Serge being out,” Jackson said. “Pick and rolls. Catch and gos. If it was somebody else's catch-and-go, whoever was guarding him might have to help. And he was just putting his head down attacking the rim.”

Tuesday was the first game Ibaka has missed this season and just the third time he's been unable to play since the start of the 2010-11 season. In a way, Ibaka's presence as a fixture in the lineup has made it easy to take his impact for granted.

His shot-blocking has been consistent, but he's come under fire for not being an adequate low-post man defender. He's improved his rebounding numbers but draws more attention for an inability to defend the perimeter.

It's unclear whether Ibaka will be available for Thursday's game at Denver. But if it wasn't before, it's obvious now how much the Thunder needs him, especially against the Nuggets.

Denver is one of the best teams at scoring at the rim, averaging 44.9 points in the paint and 48 in its past three contests.

If Ibaka can't go, the Nuggets could make what happened Tuesday night in Utah look pedestrian.