By Randy Renner
Turns out Scotty Brooks may very well be making a shocking change in his starting lineup afterall, one that no one this side of Gregg Popovich saw coming.
Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka, ruled out for the rest of the season just last week now may very well be able to play on Sunday in Game 3 against the Spurs.
"We can't rule him out," is exactly how Thunder GM Sam Presti put it when asked if Ibaka's stunningly rapid recovery from his calf strain would allow him to play in the next game.
"We've upgraded Serge's status from being ruled out to being day-to-day," Presti announced at a packed news conference at high noon. "We're really pleased with the progress that he's made. We're excited for him knowing how hard he's worked."
Presti also said he and others at the Thunder training facility are "surprised" by the development and that the swelling Ibaka experienced in his calf immediately after being hurt in Game 6 of the Clippers series subsided much faster than anyone thought it would.
"As a result of that (Serge) is demonstrating a function level and a stability level that's better than where we thought we would be."
But just as Presti dangled that carrot to Thunder fans eager for anything to hang their hopes on for a series that appears to be quickly getting away, he also waved a stick.
"We're not saying that he's playing (on Sunday) but we're saying that the information is telling us that we can't rule him out (for Sunday's game).
Down in San Antonio, Popovich feigned surprise that Ibaka might very well indeed be back protecting the rim for the Thunder.
"Shocked," he said, "I'm so surprised. We knew he'd be back." In fact the Spurs kept thinking Ibaka would come walking through the doors at the AT&T Center sometime before Game 1 or certainly Game 2 tipped off. Turns out it will be at least Game 3 but Popovich said whether Ibaka plays or not it won't impact the Spurs preparations.
"No but it does give them another hell of a player. But we are who we are, we can't change what we do."
Of course what the Spurs have done so far is dismantle and embarrass the Thunder, a team that won all four regular season games against San Antonio.
Presti insists the dire situation the Thunder are in has had no bearing on how quickly Ibaka has recovered and that the team is not pushing Ibaka toward playing before he's truly ready and physically able.
"Everybody reacts and heals differently, obviously we're really happy in this case that's he's quick to recover. The swelling was decreasing rapidly and that allowed our clinicians and medical staff to get a better understanding of the injury."
It appears now that the swelling has subsided, the actual injury may not be quite as bad as first feared. That coupled with the fact that Ibaka is a physical freak like few others has allowed the Thunder to upgrade his status from "out" to "day-to-day."
It's important though that no one get too carried away by all this.
"He's still out," said Brooks (party pooper), "yeah he's day-to-day but he's still out. We're still focusing on trying to beat the Spurs without him playing and that has not changed."
And it may not, but just the mere news that it could seemed to pump life and hope and optimism back into a situation that appeared darned near hopeless when the sun came up this morning.
Brooks said he was feeling better about things even before hearing that Ibaka could be back.
"We did a lot of things today I thought we needed to do to get better, we did a lot of scrimmaging, just to try to enjoy the game together. I thought it was a great day today."
One that just kept getting better.