MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Serge Ibaka laughed.
I asked him about the two missed dunks, and he laughed. It's one thing to miss 17-footers by the riverboat load. It's quite another to miss uncontested dunks. If Ibaka can't even dunk anymore, if the loss of Russell Westbrook has robbed the Thunder even of the most simple tap-ins, then what hope do the Boomers have?
And Ibaka laughed. Shook his head, laughed and said, “Honestly, unbelievable.”
Which qualifies as a good thing for the Thunder. Nothing else has worked to snap the slump of ol' Serge. Might as well try the best medicine.
On a night when the Thunders couldn't throw it in the Mississippi if you put them on the banks of Mud Island, Oklahoma City lost to the Grizzlies 87-81 Saturday in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.
And this series is becoming increasingly clear. The Thunder can't find enough points to beat the Grizzlies. Not with Ibaka playing like this.
Oh, there are other usual suspects. Kevin Martin had the same miserable shooting line as Ibaka — 6-of-17 — and normally dependable Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison have gone in the tank. The Grizzlies will do that to you. Memphis is an Egyptian phrase for “you're not making this shot.”
Even Kevin Durant is starting to feel the oppression of the Memphis defense. After starting 6-of-7, Durant made just three baskets the final 28 minutes.
And now Durant's job has gotten even tougher. While carrying his teammates, Durant must stoop to pick up Ibaka.
“I have to pick him up, and that is what I have been doing,” Durant said. “We have to get him confidence. We have to get him some shots and get him going. We can't let him put too much pressure on himself. It's all in his mind. If he thinks he is going to make those shots, then he is going to make them.”
I don't know how one guy can get another guy going much more than Durant did in the first half, when twice he set up Ibaka for easy slams. Give Ibaka credit. He wasn't passive. He attacked the rim with so much venom, the missed dunks caromed all the way to Beale Street.
Ibaka likened the missed dunks to some soccer player who I guess blew a penalty kick in the World Cup or something. I'll take his word for it.
But take my word for this. The Thunder can't beat Memphis without Ibaka becoming an offensive force. Since Westbrook went down with that danged injury, Ibaka's shots have gone up and his scoring has gone down.