If you had trouble sleeping last night following the Thunder’s draining 105-103 Game 4 loss, you weren’t the only one.
Because Serge Ibaka did too.
“I couldn’t sleep last night, man,” Ibaka told reporters today at practice.
Ibaka of course missed a point-blank shot as time expired that would’ve sent the game to overtime. It was a play that looked simple, but wasn’t as easy as it appeared. But Ibaka came up short — literally — and is dealing with getting past that play.
“It happened. It’s been tough on me. It was my first time to be in that position,” Ibaka said. “For me, it was my first time to be in that position. It didn’t happen, so now I know how it feels and I’ll move on. My focus is now on tomorrow’s game.”
Overcoming a failure like that can be a small defining moment in a player’s career. He let he team down — or at least he feels like he did — and has to get past it and direct his attention to Game 5.
“Serge plays with a lot of emotion and passion, but he’s fine today,” said Scott Brooks. “He’s fine.”
Ibaka’s miss was a focal point of Game 4’s loss, but really, as Ibaka himself wisely noted, that was hardly the biggest factor in the Thunder’s loss.
“We need to do a better job to start the third quarter, man,” Ibaka said. “That’s now two games they got hot in the third quarter and came back. So we need to do a better job and take care of business in the third quarter.”
The last two games, the Rockets have won the third 55-38. Game 3, it was 27-14. Game 4, 38-24. With most of the damage coming in the first six or seven minutes, when the starting five is on the floor. It’s a problem. Is it a starting five problem? The Rockets are creating mismatches and causing problems for the Thunder’s two big lineup. In Games 1 and 2, it wasn’t an issue, but a lineup of strength. In 3 and 4, it changed. Why? Russell Westbrook’s not there to provide the necessary spark and consistency to sort of shield the starting five’s deficiencies.
With all the focus on how the Thunder play without Westbrook, Brooks sees the issue for OKC’s lapses being on the defensive end, and less about the perception of poor offense.
“The scoring, I feel that we’re going to have enough as we continue to improve in what we do,” he said. “Our scoring is going to be fine. We just have to continue to play defense.”
He’s right. In Game 4, the Rockets had an offensive rating of 111.0, which not good at all for the Thunder. In Game 3, while the Thunder tried to stumble their way through their first outing without Westbrook, the Rockets had a 101.0 rating. Defense has to be the backbone for this Thunder team right now. All the focus is going to be on how OKC scores, what sets they run and how it looks. But they can always defend.
“There are going to be some tough moments, but we understand that,” Brooks said. “We’ve had times we had tough moments, no matter who is on the floor. But when you defend, it can get you through those tough moments.”