By Michael Kinney
Serge Ibaka didn’t even want to talk about it. When the Oklahoma City power forward was asked about the 2012 playoff game against San Antonio in which he shot 11 of 11 from the field, he says he never thinks about it.
“Oh man, That’s over,” Ibaka said. “It’s a couple of years ago. It’s over. “Right now, in this moment, we’ve got the good fortune to play against one of the best basketball teams in the world and it’s exciting to play, to do that.”
However, as the Thunder prepare to take on the Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals tonight, there may be no bigger X-factor than Ibaka.
For Oklahoma City to have a chance of knocking off San Antonio, they will need the Ibaka of old. Not the one who disappeared at times during the regular season. But the one who wrecked havoc on defense and knocked down open 15 foot jumpers.
Yet, Ibaka won’t even recall those past accomplishments.
“I can not be here living in the past. Because it’s over.” Ibaka said. “I may do better than 11 of 11. You never know. I’ve been working all summer and during the season.”
Ibaka averaged 12 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots during the 2015-16 regular season. Those look like solid numbers, except when compared to what he was doing two years ago when he was posting 15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a night.
That is the Ibaka the Thunder need to see against the Spurs. Facing the front line of LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw, he can’t have nights when he doesn’t make an impact on both sides of the court.
Ibaka has shown signs that he is ready to be that type of player again. During the first round series with Dallas, he made his presence felt in a variety of ways. From his defense on Dirk Nowitzki to hitting open shots when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were double-teamed.
The Spurs were the No. 1 defense in the regular season and are so far the top defense in the postseason. They will try and limit Durant and Westbrook as much as possible.
That means players such as Ibaka, Kanter, Dion Waiters and Steven Adams have to be ready to contribute and take pressure off the two stars.
Ibaka is the only who has a resume that includes coming up big in the playoffs. So, while Kanter has proven he can be a force for Oklahoma City, their title hopes still may rest with which Ibaka decides to show up this series.
‘It’s just mindset,” Ibaka said. “I try to do something I love to do 100 percent. I try giving my best to help my team. Just try to do whatever I can to give the best for my teammates.”