By Cliff Brunt Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City defensive specialist Serge Ibaka is expected to miss the rest of the NBA playoffs because of a left calf injury.
The 6-foot-10 forward had an MRI on Friday, a day after the Thunder eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers and advanced to the Western Conference finals against the Spurs. Game 1 is Monday night in San Antonio. Thunder general manager Sam Presti called it a Grade 2 strain of the plantaris, which takes time to heal and strengthen because of a high re-injury rate.
Ibaka was injured during the third quarter Thursday night.
“I just want to express our disappointment for Serge, who, as we all know, is an elite competitor and someone that has proven to be a tremendous teammate,” Presti said. “He was playing great basketball throughout the season. He’s had a huge impact on our season to date.”
Last year, All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook was knocked out of the playoffs with a torn ACL in the first round against Houston. The Thunder rallied to win that series before losing to Memphis in the next round. Presti believes the Thunder can rally and be ready for the Spurs.
“We have had this group together for a while, and they’ve been through some ups and downs, and this is just another one that hopefully is only going to make us better,” Presti said.
Ibaka’s athletic ability and mid-range jumper have been keys for the Thunder. He averaged 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 13 postseason games. During the 2013-14 regular season, he had career highs with averages of 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds while leading the league in total blocks for the fourth consecutive season with 219.
During his emotional MVP acceptance speech, Kevin Durant singled out Ibaka for stepping up and erasing many of the team’s mistakes while Westbrook recovered from his most recent knee surgery. While Westbrook was out, the Thunder went 20-7, and Ibaka’s numbers jumped to 15.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks with 57 percent shooting from the field.
“For us, we as an organization have been in some situations in the past, and how we respond to those has always been the measure of the teams that we’ve had in Oklahoma City,” Presti said. “Our expectation going forward is that we’ll respond admirably.”