Serge Ibaka injury: Thunder big man still hopes to return this season, according to report

Ronald Martinez

There's almost no chance Ibaka returns against the Spurs, but he's holding out hope for a possible return if the Thunder advance to the NBA Finals.

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While the Oklahoma City Thunder have ruled out injured power forward Serge Ibaka for the remainder of the postseason, Ibaka still hopes to make a return to the court if the Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs and advance to the NBA Finalsaccording to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

Ibaka suffered a Grade 2 strain of the plantaris muscle in his left calf in the Thunder's Game 6 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. Oklahoma City believes the injury has a one-to-two month recovery period, but Ibaka apparently has other thoughts. The big man is thinking about starting some stationary shooting this week, and although he knows a return against the Spurs is out of the question, he's holding out hope he could potentially return for the NBA Finals.

Of course, for Ibaka to even have that chance of returning in the NBA Finals, the Thunder would actually have to knock off San Antonio. And based on what happened without Ibaka in Game 1 on Monday night, that's looking like an extremely tall order.

In the past, Oklahoma City has had success slowing down the Spurs' hyper-efficient offensive attack because of Ibaka's ability to protect the paint with his length and athleticism. But without Ibaka, that rim protection was non-existent in the Spurs' 122-105 Game 1 victory.

San Antonio attacked the paint from the opening tip. In the first quarter alone, the Spurs had 18 points in the paint, with Tim Duncan doing much of the damage. Duncan scored 12 points in the first quarter, and he finished the night with 27 points and seven rebounds while shooting 11-of-19 from the field. That's a stark contrast to the 42.9 percent Duncan shot when Ibaka was on the court in the four regular-season games, according to NBA.com's stats page.

For the game, San Antonio scored a whopping 66 points in the paint. The Spurs shot 33-of-49 in the paint, and a ridiculous 25-of-29 in the restricted area:

Spurs_shooting_medium

Again, a huge difference from when Ibaka played during the regular season. In the four regular-season games, all Thunder wins, the Spurs shot just 42.3 percent in Ibaka's 147 minutes, per NBA.com's stats page. Narrowing it down even further, the Spurs shot just 48.0 percent in the restricted area and 47.1 percent overall in the paint when Ibaka was on the floor.

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks tried numerous combinations to slow down the Spurs' attack, but none were all that successful. Brooks even tried going super small with Kevin Durant at the 5, and while that lineup actually didn't perform that poorly in its seven minutes, it's hard to believe it could sustain much extended success over the course of the series.

Curiously, Brooks didn't use the lineup of Durant, Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison and Steven Adams at all in Game 1 despite the immense success it had in Game 6 against Los Angeles. In fact, Collison and Adams didn't even share the floor at all on Monday and combined to play just under 33 minutes. That's after the duo combined to play over 56 minutes in the clinching win over the Clippers, including nearly 40 for Adams. Using Adams and Collison together, and perhaps using that particular five-man unit, is a natural adjustment for Brooks to make in Game 2.

For something even more drastic, perhaps Brooks dusts off Perry Jones or Hasheem Thabeet for more size and length. But those two players have played so sparingly over the course of the year that it would be foolish to expect them to make much of a positive difference. Not to mention they might just not be any good.

While Brooks will certainly make some type of changes going forward, it simply might not matter with Ibaka out of the lineup. Nobody else on the Thunder roster can replicate what Ibaka brings to the table, and against a team as good as the Spurs, his absence might just be too much to overcome.

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