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Serge Ibaka can provide Thunder another power boost

He might not become OKC's biggest star, especially on a team with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. But Ibaka will deliver some big-time plays, just like he did Sunday night vs. Miami.
by Jenni Carlson Published: March 26, 2012
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The biggest play of the biggest game of this Thunder season so far came down to Serge Ibaka.

Not Kevin Durant.

Not Russell Westbrook.

Not what you might've expected, but the play was symbolic of how the young power forward is improving right before our eyes.

Let's set the scene — Thunder vs. Heat, Sunday night, midway through the fourth quarter. The Thunder had cruised through the first 31/2 quarters, but then in a flash, the Heat had whacked a 16-point lead in half. Miami was hitting shots, forcing turnovers and causing Oklahoma City fans to have heart palpitations.

When Durant clanged a jumper, the Thunder seemed destined for its third consecutive empty possession in crunchtime.

Gulp.

But Ibaka went after the rebound. He lunged. He battled. And somehow, he finally corralled the ball and passed it to James Harden.

It was a big-boy board.

Of course, we all know what Ibaka can do on the boards. He rebounds with the best of them. He fights with a tenacity that even some of the best big men in the league don't have.

But wait, there's more.

What Ibaka did went beyond the rebound. After snagging the board, he went immediately to the corner, to that 16- to 18-foot range where he is nearly automatic, to the spot that is fast becoming his spot. Harden saw him and got the ball right back to him, and Ibaka stuck the jumper.

End of the Heat's run.

End of its chance of winning, too.

Ibaka's take?

“First of all, offensive rebounding is my job,” he said. “And you know, every day, I work my shot after practice. All my teammates, they know that. I was open, and James found me because he knows that I can make that shot.”

Ho hum, huh?

Just because Ibaka downplayed the moment doesn't mean that anyone else should. This play is just the latest example of how his game is developing and flourishing. This is not to suggest that he hadn't played well earlier this season or even last season; Ibaka has been good for the Thunder.

But now, he's showing just how great he could be.

“Like I always told him, most of the nights he's the most athletic big on the court,” fellow Thunder big man Kendrick Perkins said. “He runs the fastest, jumps the highest, all of that.”

Some of those physical gifts haven't always translated to big stats or great performances. Ibaka, of course, is still a young guy, still a developing player. But of late, he's started to turn a big corner.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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