Ibaka had three rebounds by this point, but he was 0 for 4 from the floor and none of his shots came from outside 5 feet.
During a timeout with 6:32 left in the third quarter, a dejected Ibaka slowly walked toward the bench after losing the ball out of bounds underneath.
Teammate Kevin Durant met him at halfcourt, draped his left arm around Ibaka's neck, slapped his right palm into Ibaka's chest several times, imploring him to stay strong.
With 4:53 left in the game, former Celtics center Kendrick Perkins was whistled for his sixth foul on a charging call against his ex-teammates and also got his 11th technical of the season.
A 27-point Thunder lead had dwindled to 10 when Ibaka replaced Perkins. Then the lead shrunk to six with 3½ minutes left in a game that was far from over.
With 1:36 remaining, Ibaka converted his only field goal of the night, a simple dunk off a James Harden pass underneath to push the Thunder's lead to 114-104.
As Ibaka came down for his landing, his facial expression seemed to say, “Finally.”
Ibaka's final act was his lone block of the night, swatting a Ray Allen layup attempt into the waiting arms of teammate Daequan Cook, who was standing 20 feet away.
Ibaka, Durant and Russell Westbrook were then removed from the game to an ovation with 26.6 seconds left.
As is his ritual, Ibaka touched the court as he exited, crossed himself and looked to the heavens. He then shook his head in disgust as he accepted a high-five from coach Scott Brooks.
Ibaka had been schooled and he knew it. He lost the battle, but won the war and presumably had learned plenty from his idol.