Another plague has dropped on a Thunder playoff run, another Thunder post-season wounded by major injury, another bitter blow for this franchise that once seemed sun-kissed but now seems star-crossed.
Serge Ibaka is lost for the Western Conference Finals, and that noise you hear is Riverwalk celebration. Ibaka was a Spur burr. Usually played very well against the San Antonios. Before the news hit Friday of Ibaka’s severe calf injury, the Alamo number crunchers already could tell you that the Spurs this season scored 108 points per 100 possessions – unless Ibaka was on the court. Then the Spurs scored 93 points per 100 possessions.
Now, just as Russell Westbrook’s torn meniscus paved the way for the Spurs to sail into the NBA Finals last spring, the path has been cleared again for San Antonio.
But wait. Hope is not lost in Thunderland. Let’s see. Ibaka’s strained calf robs the Thunder of a tall, athletic, shot-blocking, shot-making, rebounding wonder. Those things are hard to find. Unless you look four lockers down from Ibaka’s.
Seems strange to ask the guy who does everything to do even more. But that shouldn’t stop the Thunder. You need a reasonable facsimile for Senor’ Serge? Who better than Durant? When the other team has the ball, Durant is a poor-man’s Ibaka.
Rim protection? Durant has had five games these playoffs with at least two blocked shots. He doesn’t have the cross-the-lane-and-swat-away-a-layup timing that Ibaka does, but few do. Durant had five blocks in Game 3 against Memphis. He’s averaged a block per game in his career, without spending much time in the lane. Most of Durant’s defensive assignments are out on the perimeter.
Rebounding? Durant had 16 Thursday night in the series-clinching win against the Clippers. Durant averaged 7.4 rebounds this season (Ibaka led the squad at 8.8) and 9.5 in these playoffs. Tell Durant he has to rebound, and he’ll rebound.
Post defense? Well, that’s where the comparison withers. Durant isn’t the inside muscle that Ibaka can be. But good news. The muscle teams are in the past. No more Memphis, with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. No more Clippers, with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
The Spurs have skilled and talented big men, but Tim Duncan no longer is a behemoth, Boris Diaw never was and Tiago Splitter might never be. Durant can guard Diaw and Splitter if need be.
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