Report: It's Looking Likely That Serge Ibaka Will Play in Game 3 for OKC Thunder

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - May 13: Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder speaks with media after Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Chesapeake Arena on May 13, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice:  Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)
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After initially being ruled out for the remainder of the postseason, all signs are pointing to Serge Ibaka's return in Game 3 between his Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday:

Members of the Thunder—including Ibaka—discussed the possibility with the media on Saturday. The fact that Ibaka was made available to the media was the first hint he'll be ready to go:

Ibaka's comments were the second hint:

It certainly doesn't sound like Ibaka's going to let a little pain hold him back.

The power forward hurt his calf in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Clippers. He departed the game after playing 26 minutes.

When pressed to say whether he'd suit up on Sunday, Ibaka indicated that the decision would depend on what the doctors say, telling reporters: "Well, right now I'm waiting for the team doctor to confirm, and also it's depending on whether I will go tomorrow, day by day, and see."

When the question was put in slightly different terms, Ibaka didn't budge: "I just told you it's day by day. I cannot say how I feel. I'm waiting what the doctor going to tell me and how my body going to feel. So day by day, let's see how I'm going to wake up tomorrow."

Here's a peak at Ibaka walking after the exchange with the media, via Darnell Mayberry's Vine (h/t NewsOK.com's Anthony Slater):

Ibaka's teammates were hopeful but similarly cautious about making any promises:

The San Antonio Spurs seem to be the most certain faction in all this. They never doubted Ibaka would make a "surprise" return:

This would of course be much ado about nothing if Ibaka is ultimately unable to go. But it's hard to imagine him sitting unless doctors mandate it. Daily Thunder's Royce Young outlines the probability of a return, noting that Ibaka has yet to satisfy a checklist of prerequisites:

Basically, it comes down to this: If the Thunder's physicians will give him clearance, he's playing, no matter how much pain he's in. But again: He hasn’t practiced yet. He hasn’t even run yet. The game is tomorrow, so Ibaka has a lot of ground to make up to be available for Game 3. Sam Presti said on Friday that Ibaka would need to go through contact drills and some game-like simulations to be able to play, something that didn't happen today. However, Scott Brooks said the team didn't actually have a very intensive practice on Saturday, doing mostly shooting and game preparation things.

Assuming doctors give the go-ahead, you have to imagine Ibaka will have a busy Sunday ahead of him—all culminating in Game 3 tipping off in Oklahoma City.

For now, the talking heads will be busy sorting out how much of a difference Ibaka would make. According to the man himself, his absence isn't the reason OKC dropped those first two games:

That's a pretty sound assessment given the margins of victory. Ibaka might have made Games 1 and 2 closer, but it's hard to imagine him single-handedly reversing the Thunder's fortunes. 

That said, he could change this series going forward. The Thunder desperately need Ibaka's contributions on the defensive end, where he's one of the league's very best rim-protectors. They could also use his mid-range jumper to help space the floor on offense.

Most importantly, though, Ibaka's return would almost certainly be a mentally and psychologically uplifting experience for the team. More than any difference he'll make from an X's-and-O's perspective, his most indelible impact may be lighting an emotional spark. 


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