On Sunday afternoon, the Spurs’ Tony Parker told San Antonio reporters that he couldn’t believe Serge Ibaka was out. Wouldn’t believe it.
“I’ll believe it when I see tomorrow he is not on the court,” Parker said.
But despite the paranoia, the Spurs have nothing to worry about. Ibaka didn’t even travel to San Antonio with the Thunder. Still getting around on a medical scooter, Ibaka remained in Oklahoma City for treatment.
But according to teammate Reggie Jackson, he remains in high spirits.
“Serge is Serge,” Jackson said. “Saying ‘Hi’ to everybody, going to work. Still looking buff, still lifting. He knows he’s part of the team. Very valuable for us, on the court and off. I’m sure he’ll be sending out texts, telling us what he sees.”
LEONARD GETS ANOTHER CRACK AT KD
The last time Kawhi Leonard saw Kevin Durant in a playoff series, the Spurs’ emerging forward was only a rookie.
He had a couple nice performances — including a 17-point, 10-rebound Game 2 — but overall, Durant easily got the better of him.
"It is what it is. It's experience,” Tim Duncan said of Leonard. “You have to go through it to get better, and he's been through it. He's seen these guys. He's been in situations.”
And now, the Spurs hope, he’s ready for another crack at Durant.
Following his strong performance in the NBA Finals last season, playing LeBron James to a near standstill, Leonard had a strong regular season and an even more impactful start to this playoff run.
Against the Blazers last round, Leonard averaged 17 points and nearly eight rebounds, shooting 56 percent overall and 53 percent from 3-point range. In the closeout game, he was the star, compiling 22 points, seven rebounds and five steals.
“He’s growing month-by-month,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Actually, week-by-week … He takes pride in his defense. He rebounds. Offensively, he's taking pretty good shots, he's becoming more confident in making plays. Not worrying about the results, or what the consequence might be, just playing the game aggressively. He's been pretty special for us."
And the Thunder has taken notice. When asked what he liked about Leonard’s game, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks was extremely complimentary.
“It’s probably better to be put what I don’t like about his game,” Brooks said. “Nothing. He has an all-around game. He’s definitely an All-Star in the making, probably quickly. Does it all. A defender, playmaker, outside shooter, gets into the paint.”
“If I had to pick one thing I like about him most — just his demeanor,” Brooks continued. “He plays the game the way it should be played — hard. He’s not trying to show anybody up, just plays hard, a big play, that’s what he’s supposed to do mentality. I appreciate that from a distance.”
In the absence of Ibaka, plenty of rotational options are available for Brooks.
And that includes sporadically used Hasheem Thabeet, although the likelihood remains low, unless foul trouble forces Brooks’ hand.
“He’s strictly a five man and we lost a four,” Brooks said. “But he has to be ready. Foul trouble. His minutes in Game 1 against Memphis, Perk and Steven got two quick fouls and he played a few minutes.”
Durant on the first two rounds: “We played two great ballclubs that were well-coached, both teams. We lost some sleep at night preparing for these guys. And it was an emotional rollercoaster sometimes. But that’s what the playoffs is about. Every series prepares you for the next one.”