Ibaka Doesn't Think About Past Glory Against Spurs

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Over the years Serge Ibaka has had a lot of playoff success against the Spurs.

In 10 career playoff games against San Antonio he’s hit 55.4 percent of his shots. That’s better than anyone else who’s played at least 150 playoff minutes against the Spurs.

Ibaka’s 11-for-11, 26 point night on June 2, 2012, will forever be burned into the nightmares of Spurs fans. That was the night the Thunder finished off San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals, a series OKC had trailed 0-2.

It is among the best performances in NBA playoff history and for Ibaka that’s all it is.

History.

Not something to think about now, not something that will have an impact on this series, just some numbers in a book and online.

“Oh man that’s over, that’s a couple years ago, that’s over,” Ibaka said after Thursday’s practice when he was asked his memories about that game.

“Right now, in this moment, we’ve got the good fortune to play against one of the best basketball teams in the world and it’s exciting to play, to do that.”

But, Serge was asked, what about in the offseason? Do you ever think about that game or any of the others you’ve had against the Spurs?

“No, no, no,” came the adamant reply. “Because I cannot be here living by my past, you know? Because it’s over.”

And then Ibaka smiled and told the large group of reporters, “I don’t know I might do better than 11-11 you know? Because I’ve been working all summer and during the season. So I’m just focusing on right now.”

Ibaka’s game is much different now from those past playoff successes. The biggest change is his 3-point shooting. In those 10 playoff games against San Antonio Ibaka shot 50 percent from deep...on two shots. Yep 1-for-2 from beyond the arc in all playoff games combined against the Spurs.

This season Ibaka averaged taking more threes than that per game, putting up 184. In that 2011-12 season, the one capped off by Ibaka’s 11-for-11 game, he took only three shots out beyond the arc, total.

He has become what’s called a stretch-4. A power forward who can play in the post and out on the perimeter. He can be a dangerous 3-point shooter, especially when left alone in the corners. Where his career average on those shots is 36.3 percent.

What has suffered by Ibaka’s increased play outside the paint is his shot blocking. In that 2011-12 season Ibaka swatted 241 shots, one off his career high of 242 set the next season. Now, in 2015-16 Ibaka blocked almost a hundred fewer (148), the second lowest of his career.

It’s all part of the evolution of his game and he has generally become a capable defender against other stretch-4s out on the perimeter and he’s also been used against small forwards and even guards out on the edge.

He did that in the Dallas series, taking most of the defensive minutes against Dirk Nowitzki and he will do it in this series against LaMarcus Aldridge.

“He changes (the Spurs) a lot. He’s one of the best shooting big guys in the game. He’s great for them to spread the floor.”

Ibaka admits Aldridge was a tough cover for him at times when he was in Portland.

“A couple years ago when we used to play against them I couldn’t protect the basket and still come back. But now I can, so it’s kinda different.”

Ibaka isn’t totally sure yet, or maybe he just didn’t want to tell us, if he will spend all his time on Aldridge or if Billy Donovan will want him to take on Tim Duncan at times while maybe Steven Adams goes after Aldridge.

Whatever the assignment Ibaka promises to be ready for the challenge.

“It’s just mindset you know. I try giving my best to help my team. I just try to do whatever I can do to give my best for my teammates.”

And that is one thing about Ibaka that hasn’t changed.

 

Success In Dallas Could Help Thunder In San Antonio

Local media set up to interview Thunder players and coach Billy Donovan at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com)

Local media set up to interview Thunder players and coach Billy Donovan at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com)

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Back at practice Wednesday after a day off Tuesday the Thunder were running at full speed in 5-on-5 drills which was a joy to see for veteran big man Nick Collison.

"Yeah you don't always get to go live in practice during the playoffs so that's really good," Collison told a large group of local media.

It was also good to see everyone back and at least nearly ready to go. Kyle Singler fully participated in practice and Enes Kanter probably could have but was given light duty for one more day after a slight hip injury.

The Thunder are trying to choreograph their way through a Texas two-step to make it into the Western Conference Finals and many of them believe the first step already taken in that dance will help.

They faced some adversity in the first round against Mavericks, especially when they went to Dallas coming off a stunning loss on their home floor in Game 2.

Playing well in a frenzied atmosphere with a lot of pressure to win, even against a weakened Mavs squad, should help this team as it begins this next series even deep in the Lone Star State.

“I think the fact that we played well for the most part on the road and after a tough loss, being able to be pretty resilient in that series, I think is good for us,” said Collison, a veteran of every Thunder playoff series and even one when the team was still in Seattle.

“It gives us some confidence to go out and try to do it again,” he added.

Instead of trying to bounce back from a loss at home, like OKC did in the Dallas series, the Thunder will be trying to force the Spurs into that corner.

“When you play San Antonio you have to be prepared right from the tip on how fast and physical the series is gonna be,” Collison warned.

Yes fast and physical.

Don’t let the Spurs old and slow reputation fool you, that’s false advertising. Sure Tim Duncan is 40 years old now and Manu Ginobili isn’t far behind but they’ve added enough not as old guys (LaMarcus Aldridge, David West) and their young veterans keep adding to their resumes that this Spurs team doesn’t play nearly as old as their age average would have you believe.

“They’re gonna run their offense at a higher speed than most teams you play against,” said Collison, “so just being able to know what we’re coming into on the defensive end and how locked in we have to be from the jump is big.”

Billy Donovan agrees with Collison in thinking the way the Dallas series played out will help the Thunder more than if they had just bulldozed the Mavs into oblivion.

“I think that series helped us,” Donovan said. “I think we’re a better team now from going through those five games.”

Donovan has said before he thinks his team tends to respond well to adversity, might even need some adversity to help everyone focus in on what needs to be done and that happened against the Mavericks.

“I thought we got better offensively as the series went on, we did a lot of positive things.”

The defense though tended to trend the other way. Playing great and stifling the Mavs as the series started but then losing some of its edge as the games went on.

Donovan said he thought maybe that was more the result of the different lineups the Mavs were forced to use than anything else and he gave a lot of credit to the effort expended by Dirk Nowitzki.

Still some of those struggles give you pause when you look at how disciplined and precise the Spurs can be at both ends of the floor.

Donovan knows neither team will play perfect but going up against San Antonio he also knows the Spurs tend not to beat themselves and so it makes it that much more important that the Thunder don’t beat themselves either.

“For us taking care of the basketball because of the way this team has been able to score at times the worst thing we can do is not get a shot attempt up there.”

Turnovers have certainly plagued the Thunder at times and against the Spurs giving them extra opportunities to beat you is never a good idea. Especially when the Thunder are as good as they are at shooting and rebounding.

“You’re taking away two things when you turn the ball over, you’re taking away a chance to put the ball in the basket and you’re taking away a chance to get it back. So that’s always gotta be a premium for us, once the offensive possession starts we’ve gotta get something up to the basket.”

 

Durant, Westbrook Slam Door On Dallas Soap Opera

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Dallas loves some drama, whether it’s who shot J.R. Ewing, Tony Romo’s collarbone or how Charlie Villanueva can work himself into Russell Westbrook’s head.

Monday Night Basketball at The Peake also featured “Mr. Shark Tank” Mark Cuban, also known as owner of the Mavs, saying the Thunder really just have one superstar and that’s Kevin Durant, Westbrook he said may be an All-Star but he’s no superstar.

Whether Russ heard about the slight before the game or not, he certainly played like it, scoring 36 points on 13-for-23 shooting, pulling down 12 rebounds and handing out nine assists.

During the postgame news conference following OKC’s 118-104 win closing out the series, Westbrook was asked about Cuban’s comments but his superstar teammate stepped in.

“Hold up,” Durant, who scored 33 points, said to his buddy Westbrook and then went full flame thrower on the Mavericks owner, “He’s an idiot,” Durant said of Cuban. “Don’t listen to that, he’s an idiot. That’s what we have to say about that. He’s an idiot.”

A little earlier Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle talked about how difficult for his team to control Oklahoma City’s “two superstars.”

Westbrook just looked at KD and sort of nodded and then came the question about Villanueva. The Dallas forward who seldom plays save for garbage time has been a troublemaker and fire starter the entire series.

First it was his stroll down by the Thunder bench in Game 2 to disrupt the pre-game dance routine between Westbrook and Cameron Payne. Then it was his constant trash talking, calling Durant a “p---y” every time he stood near the Mavs bench.

Mavs forward Charlie Villanueva talking to Thunder guard Russell Westbrook just before tipoff of Monday's Game 5. (Photo by Sam Murch for InsideThunder.com)

Mavs forward Charlie Villanueva talking to Thunder guard Russell Westbrook just before tipoff of Monday's Game 5. (Photo by Sam Murch for InsideThunder.com)

Before Game 5 Villanueva, who of course wasn’t in the starting lineup, walked up behind Westbrook on the court just before tipoff (why the officials allowed this I have no clue) and whispered some not-so-sweet nothings.

“Yeah he said a lot,” Westbrook admitted in the interview room. “He’s an idiot too,” chimed in Durant and then it was Westbrook who pulled out the flame thrower.

“Now he gets to go home and do whatever he get’s to do to get ready for next year and sit down to watch 82 more games like he did this year.”

To be fair Charlie didn’t sit the whole game, he played 27 seconds.

But if he got into Westbrook’s head this time it served as nothing but pure motivation. The Thunder struggled a bit in the first half at times, especially in the second quarter when OKC gave up 37 points to Dallas.

The Thunder tightened things up in the second half, allowing the Mavericks just 43 and finally putting the game away by answering each Dallas run with one of their own to keep the Mavs at arms length and then ultimately push them away.

In the end this Thunder-Mavs playoff series was a lot of talk by the Mavs and lot of action by the Thunder and the last words belonged to Durant and Westbrook.



 

Oklahoma City's superstars take over to eliminate Dallas

By Suave Francisco

 

Monday night ended the five-game saga between the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder after OKC defeated the Mavericks 118-104. Although Dallas gave a valiant effort, in the end, they couldn't compete with OKC's talent. 

Like seemingly every game seemed to start off during this series, there was drama. Tonight being because of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, stating that there's only one superstar on this Thunder team, and Kevin is the one. He said that Russell is just an all-star, not a superstar. I'm not sure why Dallas constantly tried to get in Russell's head all series. If they knew anything about Russell, they'd know he feeds off that stuff and in fact, plays better after criticism, and that's exactly what happened in game 5. Russell finished this game with 36 points on 23 shots, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists. Oklahoma City's other superstar definitely had a nice game too, scoring 33 points and pulling down 7 rebounds. 

He had 36 and he was great in every quarter. We went to some switching to start the game just to try to keep him out of the paint, then he rose up and hit three or four jump shots in a row, and that kind of got them going. I thought we did a good job of withstanding the early charge. We hung in and got it within two, but other than game 2, we didn’t have a lead in any other game in the series. They were a better team and again I really wish we would have had our full contingent of guys, I think it would have been a much closer series, but again I just love the way our guys fought throughout the whole thing.
— Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle on Russell Westbrook's fourth quarter.

This game didn't start out great for this Thunder team defensively. Russell got off to a quick start (9 points in the first five minutes), but the team allowed Dallas to shoot 52.6 percent from the field. The only reason the Thunder were up at the end of the first quarter was because they shot an even better 59.1 percent. It didn't get any better either, with Dallas only trailing by seven points at the half and maintaining their shooting percentage for the most part. Actually, midway through the second quarter, Dallas shot 63 percent from the field as they cut the lead to five points, with all the momentum. It wasn't until Durant hit a couple of big shots that the momentum started to change up.

Thunder forward Steven Adams (12) winning the opening tipoff. Photo: Torrey Purvey/ InsideThunder.com

Thunder forward Steven Adams (12) winning the opening tipoff. Photo: Torrey Purvey/ InsideThunder.com

Subsequently, the Thunder were just too much for the Mavericks in the second half. Dallas actually played a very competitive game, but like stated earlier, Oklahoma City just had talent on their side. Steven Adams also helped seal this victory with 15 points and 10 rebounds, with half of those being offensive rebounds that contributed to the team's 17-second chance points. 

Other than game two, Dallas never led in this series. Yes, that means OKC went to Dallas and never trailed for two games as well. The only thing that looked unfamiliar for this team is that their biggest lead was only 15 points in game 5 due to a slight defensive let-down, which is something to pay attention to moving forward. 

 

This team has to stay consistent throughout a series, both defensively, and offensively going into the next series against the San Antonio Spurs. A Spurs team that only lost one game at home all season and that was to the NBA's greatest regular season team in history, the Golden State Warriors. Billy Donovan and company will have to find a gameplan that can take down the Spurs, which they've done this season, but not in San Antonio, and not when the Spurs were at full strength. Even though the Thunder did almost defeat the Spurs in the last game of the season, when they played all their players and OKC rested their key players, only playing their bench.

I like our mindset. I like how we were in shootaround, practices. After that game two, we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We came in the next day and got to work. We were able to win three straight. I just like our mindset. Mentally we have to be prepared. This is a solid team that we’re playing so we have to be solid and disciplined and I like how we started the series.
— Thunder forward Kevin Durant on where the team is collectively headed to the second round.

Looking back, it just seems like Oklahoma City plays this San Antonio team very well, every time. The athleticism of this Thunder team will propel them past the Spurs, into the Western Conference finals. Only time will make that a fact, though.  

The Westen Conference semi-finals versus the Spurs will start on Saturday, with the first two games being in San Antonio due to home-court advantage being on the Spurs side. 

 

Thunder Can Closeout Shorthanded Mavs Tonight

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

The Dallas Mavericks have thrown everything they can at Thunder superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and Durant’s thrown a couple things at the Mavs) but all that’s done is empower Thunder bigs Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter and backup guard Dion Waiters to have huge games.

"They're playing a junk defense where they're loading up and doubling," Durant told reporters. "When a team plays us like that we have to move the ball and Russ did a great job of finding guys and we spaced the floor very well (in Game 4).”

Westbrook had 15 assists, many of those to Kanter who scored 28 points on 12-for-13 shooting. Kanter’s Player Efficiency Rating against the Mavs is an off-the-chart 37.9, better than anyone else still playing. His offensive rating (the number of points a team would score per 100 possessions while that player is on the court) is an even more off-the-charts 154.2.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was uncomplimentary about Kanter’s accomplishments, “He’s bottom-feeding off their great players,” he said after Saturday’s game.

But Westbrook, who pushed for Kanter to be Sixth Man of the Year, has continued to praise him during this playoff run.

“He’s been doing a great job all season and it goes unnoticed,” Westbrook said. “The stuff he does is unbelieveable.”

Some of Ibaka’s numbers have been even more impressive in this series. His offensive rating is a mind blowing 174.7 to lead all other players. Kanter’s previously mentioned 154.2 is second. Ibaka’s effective field goal percentage (adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than made twos) is an NBA playoff leading 82.9. Kanter’s is fifth at 74.3.

Westbrook has been the key to the Thunder spreading the floor and creating space, giving the interior players a lot of easy open opportunities. Kanter is shooting 73 percent in the series, Ibaka 71.4 and Adams 61.9. And Waiters got hot in Dallas shooting 68.8 percent in the two victories there.

“I just try to find guys and get them open shots,” Westbrook said today after shootaround. “I just read and react.”

Westbrook has had two straight 15-assist games in Dallas, he averaged just 8.5 assists in the first two home games. His turnovers have also dropped on the road.

“In the playoffs you can’t turn the ball over as much, especially on the road,” he said. “So you gotta take care of the basketball and not give a team any extra possessions.”

Adams says it’s important for the Thunder to come out with the right mindset tonight and be ready to finish things off.

“We’ve gotta make sure we match their energy, the focus has got to be high, the attention to detail.”

The Mavericks will again be short-handed tonight. Point guard Deron Williams didn't make the trip, he may have to undergo surgery to repair his abdominal strain. Forward David Lee has also been ruled out with a foot injury. Center Salah Mejri and point guard J.J. Barea are questionable. Dirk Nowitzki did not participate in Mavs shootaround today but is expected to play tonight.

Both Adams and Westbrook agreed, closeout games can be some of the toughest a team will play.

“Yeah closeout games are the hardest,” Westbrook said. “Obviously (the Mavs) don’t wanna go home and we wanna move on so we have to get our minds and our bodies right, come out and take care of business.”

Adams answer was a tad more colorful when it comes to how difficult it can be to end a series.

“I don’t know if you guys have ever trapped a wild animal,” he looked around at all of us gathered around and continued, “well you guys probably haven’t, but I have and it’s not a fun thing. They come out wild and attack you and do stuff that they don’t usually do.”

But pressed further Kid Kiwi admitted the trapped wild animal he was talking about was a cow.

“Yeah I had this cow in a corner, and you know they’re usually scared of you, you can pet them and stuff, but yeah this one just kinda ran me over.”

Adams, Westbrook and the Thunder will try their best to make sure the Mavericks don’t have the same kind of success tonight.

Tipoff is set for 7:10 at The Peake. You can see the game either on Fox Sports Oklahoma or on TNT. We’ll be there for full coverage also. Follow me on Twitter @RandyRenner for live updates from the arena beginning at about 4 o’clock and you can also check for live coverage on our Twitter feed page. Postgame blogs and videos will be available also with comments from both the Thunder and the Mavs.