Ibaka has ledNBA in blocked shots for four straight years
DAVID FLORES: Spurs not surprised they may face OKC's Ibaka after all
To hear the Spurs tell it Friday, they have expected to see Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka play in the Western Conference finals -- sooner or later.
OKC general manager Sam Presti, a former front-office executive with the Spurs, said last Friday that Ibaka, the Thunder's defensive anchor, would miss the remainder of the postseason after straining his left calf in the conference semifinals the previous night.
But on Friday, the Thunder upgraded Ibaka's status to day-to-day, meaning he could be available for Game 3 Sunday night in Oklahoma City.
With Ibaka sidelined, the Spurs have steamrolled to a 2-0 lead in the conference finals with blowouts of 17 and 35 points at home.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was facetious when a reporter asked him about the change in Ibaka's status.
Shocked. I'm so surprised, Popovich said, smiling and drawing laughter from reporters after practice.
Then Popovichturned serious.
Like I told you from the beginning, I know Sammy (Presti), he said. We knew he'd be back and that's good. Nobody would wish that on anybody, to miss the playoffs. We've had guys miss playoffs before, and it's obviously a downer. If he gets back in and I'm sure he will, as I've said from the beginning I think it's great.
Popovich was asked if Ibaka's return would affect the Spurs' preparation for Game 3.
No, he said. It gives them another hell of a player, but we are who we are. We've got to be who we are. We can't change what we do.
Spurs guard Danny Green also got a few laughs with his reaction to a question about Ibaka.
Big surprise to us, Green said, rolling his eyes. We prepared for this series as if he was going to play Game 1. We didn't think he was going to be out long, if at all. Day-to-day, it means he's probably going to be back.
We'll try to continue to do what we do and focus on the little things, fix the mistakes that we had in Games 1 and 2 because we'll have to be that much more focused, intense and tough going into their building, especially if they have a healthy Serge.
Ibaka, the Thunder's 6-foot-10 defensive anchor, has led the NBA in blocked shots in each of the last four seasons. Without Ibaka protecting the rim, the Spurs beat the Thunder 122-105 and 112-77 in the first two games of the conference finals.
The Silver and Black outscored OKC 66-32 in the paint in Game 1 and 54-42 in Game 2.
Ibaka started in the Thunder's first 13 playoff games, averaging 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 33.9 minutes.
Duncan: 'We'll play the same way'
What kind of emotional lift would Ibaka's return give the Thunder?
Big emotions, Green said. I'm sure they don't need any more. It's the playoffs, the conference finals. They're down 2-0. Their back's against the wall. Every game is a Game 7 for them. We've got to approach it that way as well.
And with their fans behind them we know how loud it can get in there and how emotional they are and intense they get when they go on a little run we ve got to limit those runs and not let their emotions get going too high.
Popovich scoffed at the notion that both teams would have to make adjustments if Ibaka gets back on the court.
Don't know what that is until the game starts, Popovich said. You guys make a little bit too much of these adjustments that get made. So if a team wins, they made some hellacious adjustments. If a team loses, they've got to make an adjustment. It's a lot of psycho babble to a pretty large degree.
Spurs forward Tim Duncan said he hadn't heard about the change in Ibaka's status until a reporter mentioned it.
I'm not surprised at all, Duncan said. He's a competitor. They're down. He wants to play in the playoffs. I'm not surprised at all.
How would Ibaka's return change the Spurs' preparation?
It doesn't change anything, Duncan said. We'll play the same way, attack the same way and hopefully have the same results.
Ibaka hit 11 of 11 shots in Game 4 of 2012 WCF
How much of a difference would Ibaka make?
A big difference, Green said. Obviously, he's one of the best defensive players in the league. It alters everything about the basket, rebounds, and he can also knock down shots, so you've got to respect him. Hopefully, if he does come back, he's a little rusty.
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had a different take than Popovich, Green and Duncan when he was asked if he was surprised that Ibaka may play in Game 3.
Yes and no, Ginobili said. It surprises a little bit because they said he was out and usually that's what happens. But considering the situation and you're in the playoffs, you want to make a push. And even if you're a player, and you have a role, you want to play. I understand that aspect so it's understandable, for sure.
Will Ibaka's return change the Spurs' strategy?
Hopefully not, Ginobili said. We're going to try to do the same things, not that we're going to change the game plan for him. For sure, it's going to give them another big body that can be a presence in the paint, block shots and make some jumpers.
The Spurs took a 2-0 lead against OKC in the 2012 conference finals, but the Thunder roared back with four consecutive victories to end the series in six games.
OKC's 20-point win in Game 3 snapped a 20-game Spurs winning streak that included a 10-0 run in the playoffs. Ibaka hit 11 of 11 shots in Game 4, helping the Thunder take a 109-103 win.
Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Western Conference finals
(Spurs lead series 2-0)
Game 1: Spurs 122, Thunder 105,Monday
Game 2: Spurs 112, Thunder 77, Wednesday
Game 3: Spurs at Thunder, Sunday, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: Spurs at Thunder, Tuesday, May 27,8p.m.
Game 5, if necessary: Thunder at Spurs, Thursday, May 29, 8 p.m.
Game 6, if necessary: Spurs at Thunder, Saturday, May 31, 7:30 p.m.
Game 7, if necessary: Thunder at Spurs, Monday, June 2, 8 p.m.
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