By Randy Renner
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks is putting injured power forward Serge Ibaka back in the starting lineup tonight after getting the go ahead from both Serge and the Thunder medical staff. He also told reporters just before the game he’s benching shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha and replacing him with backup point guard Reggie Jackson.
“Reggie gives us another guy who can attack,” Brooks pointed out. “He’s shooting over 40 percent from three. He gives us more offense.”
Ibaka will not be under any minutes restrictions though Brooks said he expected Ibaka to, “probably be a little winded at times and (his injured calf) might get tight so he may ride a stationary bike to keep warm and loose. But we expect him to play like Serge plays.”
Ibaka himself said yesterday he would not be 100 percent but that his pain is about half now of what it was when he strained his left calf 10 days ago against the Clippers.
“I will try to bring my teammates some defense mentality because offense will come,” Ibaka said at this morning’s Thunder shootaround. “The most important thing against (the Spurs) is defense. I’m sure you saw the last two games in San Antonio so we really need defensive mind tonight.”
When asked his thoughts on OKC’s lineup changes, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich at first said, “I don’t know what they are.” And when informed the veteran Spurs boss said simply, “We’ll go with our same starting lineup.”
How important is Ibaka to the Thunder defense against the Spurs? Well in the two games he’s missed San Antonio scored 120 points in the paint (60 per game). In the four regular season games these teams played against each other the Thunder held the Spurs to 164 paint points (41 per game).
How good Ibaka can be tonight on a left leg that’s still problematic is the big question. But right now with the Thunder down 0-2 in the series and facing what Kevin Durant calls a must win game even 70 percent of Serge Ibaka is better than what the Thunder had before.