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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

— Scott Brooks didn't use the excuse because that's not how Scott Brooks rolls.

But he didn't need to.

It was clear for everyone to see.

In its unexpected loss at Utah on Tuesday, the Thunder sorely missed Serge Ibaka.

With its starting power forward and biggest rim protector out with flu-like symptoms, Oklahoma City's defense collapsed. The Thunder allowed the Jazz to shoot an opponent-season-high 58.8 percent from the field and score 112 points — 19 more than their average.

“Every team battles injuries, battles (with) guys missing from flu-like symptoms,” Brooks said. “You just have to have guys step up. We didn't step up defensively. And knowing the way we play, that's unfortunate we didn't play defense the way we're capable of playing.”

Ibaka's absence undoubtedly had a lot to do with that.

And after witnessing the Western Conference's worst team erupt offensively maybe, just maybe, the basketball world will gain a newfound appreciation for Ibaka as more than just a shot-blocking presence on defense.

“People only look at his shot-blocking stats, but he cleans up a lot of our mistakes when we let our guys blow by us,” said Thunder guard Reggie Jackson. “Him being out was a big missing piece for us. They made us pay all game. If you watch it, they just kept attacking us at the rim.”

The Thunder, which entered the Jazz game leading the league in blocked shots, registered only two, a season-low. Kevin Durant had them both.

Without a paint protector in the lineup for the Thunder, the Jazz exploited OKC on pick-and-roll looks that were void of a weak side help defender, as well as on cuts, transition opportunities and isolations that led to dribble drives.

“They proved me wrong, but I didn't think they were going to have the ability to beat us as much as they did off the dribble and off catch-and-gos,” Jackson said. “They really tested our feet all night. They made it difficult on us. Hats off to them. They did a good job noticing that we were missing a big piece, and they just kept going into the paint.”

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