Things have changed, however, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Serge Ibaka has rapidly progressed and Thunder have changed status to day-to-day for Western Conference Finals, league source tells Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 23, 2014
OKC ran Ibaka through battery of tests on Thursday and his calf responded well. Still soreness but a Sunday Game 3 return is possible.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 23, 2014
Though the Thunder have been severely outmatched by the San Antonio Spurs thus far, Ibaka could go a long way in changing that. As surprising as the reversal of fortune may be to most, it hardly comes as a shock to the Spurs themselves.
They saw this coming.
Pop on Ibaka news: "Shocked. I'm so surprised. Like I told you from the beginning, I know Sammy. We knew he'd be back. And that's good."— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) May 23, 2014
Popovich wasn't the only one betting on a return. According to ESPN.com, Spurs point guard Tony Parker was initially incredulous when posed questions about Ibaka's absence nearly a week ago: "I don't really believe it. I'll believe when I see tomorrow he is not on the court. It's hard to believe. We'll see."
USA Today's Sam Amick notes that the Spurs appeared to have it right all along:
Meanwhile in San Antonio, the Spurs were no doubt rolling their eyes at the whole affair considering they had warned us all that this might happen. From coach Gregg Popovich on down, they had refused to believe Ibaka would miss any time and were roundly ridiculed for being paranoid.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti released a statement (h/t Wojnarowski) explaining the changed prognosis, stating, "The abundance of blood and therefore swelling in Serge’s calf has reduced substantially and unexpectedly, allowing a level of movement and stability not thought possible after the initial diagnosis."
There's still no guarantee Ibaka plays in Game 3, but all signs are pointing in that direction. It's hard to imagine the organization changing his status without strong reason to believe he could actually return in short order.
Now the question turns to what difference Ibaka is capable of making. Neither of OKC's losses in Games 1 and 2 were by a narrow margin. Can Ibaka really make up the difference?
He'll certainly help, largely because he can impact the game on both ends of the floor, but the Thunder certainly need some other things to go their way as well. Kevin Durant has to start playing like an MVP, and collectively the Thunder have to start moving the ball. And with or without Ibaka around, Oklahoma City's team defense is desperately in need of increased intensity and effort.
Still, Ibaka's defensive presence will be a game-changer—perhaps even a series-changer.