Thunder's Ibaka: I'm going to play through the pain

Serge Ibaka hasn't practiced yet for the Thunder since his injury in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Clippers. But count on him playing Sunday against the Spurs.

Noah Graham / NBAE

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Serge Ibaka is injured.

He hasn't practiced yet for the Thunder since his injury in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Clippers.

But count on him playing Sunday against the Spurs.

Ibaka met with the media Saturday afternoon and said he is going to play "through the pain."

That's super. The Thunder desperately need Ibaka. Gotta have him.

Now the question is, will Ibaka's return make Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play better?

That's what the Thunder need more than the second coming of Ibaka who hopes to improve a defense that has more open spaces than an off-airport parking lot.

Saturday the talk was all Ibaka. Rightfully so. He's one of the best defensive players in the league and his injury against the Clippers, which forced him out of the first two games at San Antonio, was a unfortunate bad turn of luck.

But the absence of Westbrrook and Durant isn't bad luck, it's bad timing.

"I've been hearing a lot of people saying my team lost two games because I was out," Ibaka said to The Oklahoman Saturday. "It's not true. San Antonio, the first two games, they played better basketball."

Ibaka is right about the first part. San Antonio probably wins either of the first two games with or without Ibaka in the lineup. But you can't assume the same the same thing if Durant and Westbrook show up.

This Thunder team wins games when Westbrook and/or Durant plays well. This team wins playoff games when both play well and it gets a hint of help from anyone else.

This Thunder team loses when both its superstars take the night off – and if the two are  complemented by an extreme lack of production from the other starters, it's pretty much all over.

Which is exactly what's happened.

Westbrook and Durant didn't even play the fourth quarter in Game 2. They went 13-for-40 in the first three quarters and coach Scott Brooks conceded the game. Meanwhile, Game 1 was still  in doubt when the two finished the fourth quarter 2-of-6 from the field for a combined seven points.

Meanwhile, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins, the three other starters have been noticeably unnoticeable.

Durant has shot 46 percent against the Spurs in two games. He averaged 50 percent in the regular season. Durant is scoring less than 22 points per game. He averaged 32 in the regular season. And Westbrook? He's getting 35.6 percent of his shots to go in against the Spurs and is averaging 20 points per game – both numbers below what Westbrook averaged in the regular season.

Point to Ibaka being out and you're partially right. Blame Ibaka for the Thunder's shortfalls and deficiencies against the Spurs and you're not watching the right game.

Oh, the Thudner will play better Sunday. They seem to when cause and circumstance back them up. A 2-0 deficit in the Western Conference Finals and a return to Chesapeake Energy Arena fit the criteria.

And you should feel good about Ibaka returning. But don't feel like this is the decision that changes the game. Ibaka admitted if he plays, which still isn't a definite, he won't be 100 percent healthy. Doesn't matter because the  only thing that will decide Game 3 is Durant and Westbrook.

"Whatever it take," Ibaka said to the retorters who gathered at Thunder practice Saturday. "I've been through a lot. Nothing was easy for me. I will just put my mind ready, I will be ready to go."

Hopefully the two most-important pieces of the Thunder team will be, too.

"I believe in miracles," Ibaka said, speaking of his quick return.

But the don't need a miracle, they just Westbrook and the league's MVP to show up.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK


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