The Thunder enters a brave new world Monday night against the Spurs. No Serge Ibaka.
In the last five years, the Thunder has played without Ibaka just three times. Two missed games in 2012-13, one missed game this season. All virtually meaningless.
Now the Thunder has a series that is the opposite of meaningless. This is the Western Conference Finals, and Ibaka is a Spur thorn.
Here are Ibaka performances against San Antonio the last three years:
2013-14: Four games, 14.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.0 blocks, 25 of 54 shooting.
2012-13: Four games, 13.25 points, 13.25 rebounds, 2.75 blocks, 21 of 40 shooting.
2011-12: Three games, 10.67 points, 7.33 rebounds, 3.67 blocks, 13 of 26 shooting.
2012 playoffs: Six games, 12.0 points, 5.67 rebounds, 2.67 blocks, 28 of 48 shooting.
So that’s 17 games, during which Ibaka averaged 12.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 51.8 percent shooting.
The Thunder can find his missing points. Maybe find his missing rebounds. Could even sustain the excellent field-goal percentage. But the missing rim protection? Remember Kevin Durant’s MVP speech, when he talked about each of his teammates. He talked about personality traits and work ethics and smiles and all kinds of non-basketball characteristics.
Except when he got to Ibaka. Durant thanked Ibaka for “cleaning up all our mistakes.”
The Thunder’s defense comes and goes, in terms of staying in front of offensive players. But always on the job is Ibaka, serving as a toll gate who doesn’t easily let opponents to the basket.
What is the Spurs' advantage of not having Serge on floor?
“He averaged four or five blocks a game against us,” said San Antonio’s Danny Green. “He's another guy who plays really well against us, with Reggie Jackson. The thing about it is he doesn't miss many shots -- 7-for-7, 11-for-11 or 7-for-8. He doesn't miss many shots. He finishes at the rims, putbacks, rebounds. He's an inside presence defensively and that affects Tony (Parker) a lot, Manu (Ginobili), all our drivers and slashers that try to get to the basket.”
Green was referring to Ibaka’s memorable 11-for-11 Game 3 in the 2012 West finals. Ibaka’s offense against San Antonio was not always at such levels. In fact, take that solitary game away, and Ibaka is shooting just 48.4 percent against the Spurs the last three years.
His offense will be missed. But that defense is irreplaceable.
“Everything at the rim for us isn't available that it usually is because of his presence,” said Spurs backup point guard Patty Mills. “Getting in the paint and finding shooters is going to be another key.”
Mills continued to talk about Ibaka, saying the problems Ibaka caused were “his length and ability to block shots and get rebounds. On the offensive end, he could step out and knock down the jumper as well, which really caused some problems.”
Mills said the Thunder isn’t destitute. “There's guys that can step up,” Mills said. “Collison hit a big three the other night, and he can definitely fill in that role and be the aggressor. He can knock bodies around and grab rebounds and knock down that jumper as well. I don't think there's going to be a big gap missing.”
Sorry, the testimony is in. There is a big gap missing. And it’s when the Spurs go to the rim.