For the second year in a row, the Oklahoma City Thunder have lost a key piece of their team in the postseason. Forward Serge Ibaka is expected to miss the rest of the playoffs after injuring his left calf against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, as the team announced Friday:
News: MRI confirms Serge Ibaka suffered left calf injury during last night's game. He is expected to miss remainder of the 2014 postseason.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) May 16, 2014
Thunder general manager Sam Presti identified the plantaris part of the calf as the problematic area, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears:
Presti said Ibaka's injury is in the plantaris part of the calf.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) May 16, 2014
Presti said that the reason for such a long layoff is to prevent the injury from cropping up again, per The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater:
Sam Presti said Serge Ibaka's calf injury is a Grade 2 strain: "The recovery process is lengthy because the reinjury probability is so high"— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 16, 2014
The Oklahoma City GM is refusing to use the injury as any potential excuse, per Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:
Sam Presti: "We'll respond admirably. We'll have to adapt. We'll have to adjust."— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 16, 2014
This is reminiscent of last year, when Russell Westbrook went down in the first round against the Houston Rockets. The Thunder must have done something to really upset the basketball gods to have this happen two postseasons in a row.
While Ibaka isn't as important to the team as Westbrook was/is, he still plays a large role, and his absence will be seriously felt as OKC moves on to the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
NBA insider David Aldridge pointed out that no other Thunder player is equipped to hurt the Spurs inside:
Devastating news for OKC on Ibaka. Can still compete but he was the one frontcourt player with the hops/game to cause Spurs problems.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) May 16, 2014
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said he still remembers when the power forward went 11-of-11 from the field and scored 26 points in Game 4 of the 2012 Western Conference finals against San Antonio, per ESPN's Marc Stein:
In San Antonio today, Pop said he can't hear Ibaka's name without having 11-for-11 nightmares. His absence changes whole series obviously— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 16, 2014
This injury illustrates just how difficult it can be to win an NBA title. The Thunder, for all intents and purposes, have the pieces to take home a championship.
But all of that can go up in smoke if the wrong player goes down.
While it's much too early to write OKC off completely, what was bound to be a tough series against San Antonio just became infinitely more difficult for the Thunder.