(How about that headline, you guys? Pretty great, right?)
So, some big news echoed throughout the Thunder’s practice facility on Friday.
Serge Ibaka may not be out for the rest of the postseason. In fact, he MAY be able to play as early as Game 3 on Sunday.
“We’re surprised that we’re here, although grateful that he’s made enough progress to say he’s not ruled out,” Sam Presti said Friday. “I think it’s important when you look at this, to recognize that we’re not saying that he’s playing, but what we’re really trying to indicate is that the information is telling us that we can’t rule him out.”
The initial injury had Ibaka ruled out of the postseason with a Grade 2 calf strain. The swelling he was experienced indicated it was a significant injury, one that would likely take 4-6 weeks to recover from. But the swelling unexpectedly reduced in a considerable way, and has left the Thunder with a new diagnosis of Ibaka being day-to-day.
“A big part of this is the swelling in his calf has reduced incredibly rapidly, more so than any of us could’ve expected or our medical staff could’ve projected,” Presti said. “And as a result of that he’s demonstrating a function level and a stability level that’s better than where we thought we would be.”
Asked if he sees Ibaka playing Sunday as a real possibility, Presti said, “The best way for me to answer that question is to say we can’t rule him out.”
Ibaka is currently participating in some light shooting drills, but has not gone through any live action or contact drills, things necessary for him to do before returning.
“He’ll go through a battery of tests such as game-like conditions, conditioning, and a lot of that is how he feels the following morning and what he’s able to tolerate,” Presti said.
Scott Brooks said four times following Game 1 against the Spurs that Ibaka would not be coming back, even going as far to invoke his inner Pitino saying Ibaka was “not coming through that door.” And he still didn’t sound convinced on Friday.
“It’s changed from we thought he was going to be out to now it’s day-to-day, but he’s still out,” Brooks said. “We’re still focusing on trying to beat the Spurs without him playing and that has not changed. I know he’s listed as day-to-day but he’s still out until I’m told differently.”
It wasn’t just Brooks, either. Kevin Durant stressed that Ibaka is out and not coming back, as well as most other players on the team as they tried to cope and accept life without their rim protector. But now, there’s the potential for them to get him back, which has to be quite the mental boost, especially considering how the first two games played out.
“We’d like to have him back, but we can’t worry about that,” Kendrick Perkins said. “We’re down 0-2 right now. We’ve got to worry about winning the next game at home. You can’t really put all your effort into is Serge coming back or not. We’ve got to go out here and win this game and figure out why we’re getting beat so bad.
“He’s a key guy,” Perk continued. “But at the end of the day, we shouldn’t be getting beat this bad. My opinion, even if we would’ve had Serge especially in the last game, the way we’ve played, we still would’ve lost the game.”
This is just conjecture on my part, but with how adamantly the Thunder denied any chance of Ibaka returning, my thinking is that they were committed to trying to convince themselves of playing without him. That they couldn’t be looking over their shoulders wondering what it would look like without him. So getting him back, or at least the possibility of it, is a massive shot in the arm.
Presti was unable to comment on what kind of role Ibaka would play if he did indeed return on Sunday, saying that with the provided information he has, he just knows Ibaka is no longer listed as out.
Obviously, this is a lift, and with another day off tomorrow, there’s a decent chance Ibaka could be activated for Sunday’s game. What kind of impact he would have is unknown, but at least having that much needed mental push could be big. The Thunder have been humiliated in the first two games, losing by a combined 52 points, which each game getting progressively worse.
Ibaka won’t fix it all himself, especially not on one leg. But the Thunder have something to play for now. The more you win and the longer you make this series, the better your chances are of getting whole again on the court.
Hat tip to Randy Renner for the audio