Serge Ibaka flirted with a triple-double in the Thunder's 95-74 win at Cleveland on Sunday, scoring eight points with 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
The second-year forward's defense set the tone for the game, as he protected the rim for the Thunder and discouraged both Cavs guards and big men from hoisting shots in the paint.
“He wanted to protect the basket,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We talked about it before the game … When he does that, we're very good defensively.”
Center Nazr Mohammed refused to take any credit for the team's impressive interior defense.
“That was all Serge,” Mohammed said. “Serge did an unbelievable job contesting shots, blocking shots, clogging up that middle. He reminds me of Theo Ratliff back in his day with his ability to block shots.”
Ibaka said he has recorded 12 blocks while playing in South Africa in his younger days.
TRASH TALK FUELS WESTBROOK'S BIG THIRD QUARTER
In the third quarter, point guard Russell Westbrook scored 14 of the Thunder's 25 points to help his team take a 19-point lead into the final period.
Westbrook poured in 12 straight Thunder points on a series of drives during a five-minute span and was 7-for-9 from the field in the period. Westbrook also added three assists in the quarter.
“Sometimes I feel the game is getting out of whack,” Westbrook said. “We took a 10-point lead and it kind of stayed that way for a long time and they were about to make a run. I just tried to step up and do what I can to get us going. I was just trying to compete, go out and win for my team.”
Kevin Durant said the team began playing off Westbrook “because once he gets it going, he's going to be tough to stop.”
“The thing about it, he didn't do it outside the offense,” Durant said. “He did everything within the offense and everybody still looked good. They (the Cavs) were talking a little bit over there. That's one thing Russ really doesn't like. It kind of ticks him off a little bit. He came and did his thing.”
PERKINS' STATUS STILL UNCERTAIN
Center Kendrick Perkins did not play Sunday and continues to be listed as day-to-day by the team. Brooks wouldn't say with certainty following the Cavs win whether Perkins would make his debut tonight at Washington.
SHARED CHILDHOOD IN CONGO
Ibaka and Cleveland rookie guard Christian Eyenga have known each other since they were teenagers growing up in Congo. The two played against each other while competing for different club teams in Africa.
“He was so tall,” Eyenga remembered. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy?' He would block everything. It was just crazy.”
Ibaka and Eyenga are good friends today. They went to dinner in Cleveland Saturday night, and they chatted up each other inside the Thunder's locker room after Sunday's game.
There's just a little discrepancy over which player got the best of the other back in the day.
“Everywhere we go, I beat him,” Ibaka insists. “In Congo, I beat him. In Spain. In the NBA.”
COLLISON INJURES ANKLE
Forward Nick Collison twisted his right ankle late in the third quarter against the Cavs when he landed on another player's foot.
Collison was treating the ankle immediately after the game and said it was sore. He wasn't sure about whether he'd be able to play tonight against the Wizards.
One player to keep an eye one tonight is Washington forward Trevor Booker.
The last time the Thunder played the Wizards, the rookie forward went off for 21 points and 12 rebounds, both career highs. In that game on Jan. 28, a double-overtime win by the Thunder, Booker made nine of 11 shots before fouling out following a career-high 44 minutes.
Booker is averaging just 4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds this season.