After their series win over the Clippers, the Thunder announced on Friday that Serge Ibaka will miss the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury. It’s a devastating blow to Oklahoma City, who saw their playoff run fall short last season largely because of an injury to Russell Westbrook in the first round. The Thunder won all four games in the regular season against the Spurs, and a lot of that had to do with Ibaka’s presence on the defensive end and the ability to stretch the floor on offense.
In a series that was hard to predict even when both teams were at full strength, the edge would seem to go to the Spurs. Gregg Popovich might be thinking the same thing, because he’s planted the thought in his player’s minds that this Ibaka injury news might not be what it seems.
According to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, when Tony Parker was asked about Ibaka’s status, he responded, “I don’t believe it. I’ll believe it when I see it.” Kawhi Leonard echoed those sentiments as well when he was approached with the same question. Now, before the conspiracy theories on Ibaka spins out of control, keep in mind that he did not even travel with the team to San Antonio, so any miraculous return would not happen until Game 3 at the earliest.
But this is just the message that Popovich is sending to his players, and it’s not necessarily about the Ibaka injury. The message is this: be prepared for anything at this point in the playoffs. As for Ibaka actually returning in this series, given the severity of his injury, we wouldn’t count on it. But if you ask the Spurs players, I’m sure you’ll get a different response.
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