With the Thunder clinging to a four-point lead with 26.4 left to play, Scott Brooks summoned his troops and ordered the most unorthodox of defensive strategies in the critical closing seconds.
Twenty-one seconds earlier, Denver guard Arron Afflalo, known for his big-shot ability, had just nailed a 3-pointer to cut Oklahoma City's lead to two and inject more life into the never-say-die Nuggets. After Russell Westbrook buried a 15-footer, the Nuggets went right back to their money man.
This time, Brooks was ready.
“You might not believe me,” said Kevin Durant, “but at the end, coach said press up on Afflalo and let him go to the rim. That sounds kind of weird, right.”
Brooks knew the Serge Protector was patrolling the paint.
Serge Ibaka swatted Afflalo's driving layup attempt and rebounded it in one motion to prevent the basket, secure the ball and help the Thunder pull out a 124-118 overtime victory on Sunday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It was the last of Ibaka's career-high and franchise-record 11 blocked shots.
On a night in which Durant and Russell Westbrook stuffed the stat sheet with mind-numbing numbers not seen since the early '80s, they nearly had the show stolen from them by Ibaka, who added 14 points and 15 rebounds to register the franchise's first triple double with blocked shots.
It was Ibaka's third game this season with at least 10 blocked shots — the third time in 11 games that Ibaka's had double-digit rejections. The last player to record three games of at least 10 blocked shots was Shawn Bradley, who had five during the 1996-97 season.
“He's been phenomenal, man,” said Durant, who scored a career-high 51 points. “It's just fun to watch.”
Ibaka recorded eight of his 11 blocked shots in the second half and overtime. But he earned his triple double in regulation, rejecting his 10th shot, a layup by Ty Lawson, with 2:32 to play in the fourth quarter.
All told, Ibaka blocked at least one shot of six Nuggets players. He got Afflalo, Corey Brewer and Andre Miller twice apiece and lightening quick point guard Ty Lawson three times.
“Serge cleaned up a lot of our mistakes,” said Brooks. “That's what he does…Serge is protecting the basket as well as I've seen. To have three games of double-digit blocked shots…It's pretty impressive. He has a desire to help his teammates out, and that's what he does. He has great instincts.”
After leading the league in total blocks last season, Ibaka bumped his league-leading shot-blocking average this year to 3.29.
“Our coach, Mark Bryant, is a good coach, but he ain't teaching any of that,” Brooks joked.
How rare is Ibaka's double digit shot-blocking? Before Ibaka pulled the feat this season, it was done only 12 times in the past 10 years. Marcus Camby was the only player to do it twice. The others were JaVale McGee, Ben Wallace, Jermaine O'Neal, Dikembe Mutombo, Calvin Booth, Amar'e Stoudemire, Josh Smith, Andrei Kirilenko, Emeka Okafor and Dwight Howard.
Pretty impressive company.
“You're not going to be able to score on us,” said James Harden of Ibaka when he protects the paint like he has this month. “With our length, if you get past our guards you got to run into him, and he's already at the rim about to block your shot ... it's very tough.”