By Randy Renner
In sports there's always a lot of talk about toughness, some real, some fake.
But make no mistake, when it comes to tough guys, Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka is as real as they come.
Unless something shocking happens between now and 7:30 you can expect Ibaka to be introduced with the starting lineup at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It’s my decision,” whether he plays or sits, he told reporters after shootaround, “At this point, it’s more my decision than coach or doctor and if I feel better later, I’m gonna go.”
A few days ago Thunder head coach Scott Brooks famously said, “Serge is not coming back, he’s not walking through the door.”
And in fact three days ago Ibaka admits he wasn’t walking at all, “Yeah it was tough, I couldn’t walk at all but now I’m feeling better and better every day.”
Brooks did not speak with reporters after shootaround and he usually doesn’t so we won’t know what name he puts down in that power forward slot until an hour or so before tipoff but Ibaka is tired of being on the sidelines, or home watching on TV, as his teammates struggle to even compete with the Spurs without him.
“I will try to bring my teammates some defense mentality because offense will come, 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.”
Ibaka will not be totally healthy tonight. He said today the pain he is feeling in his calf is about half what it was when the injury occurred in Los Angeles, “so I’m getting better,” he said.
So much better than he seems bound and determined to get back on the floor and he was back today on the practice court, “We run some play today, I do some shots, better today than yesterday.”
So unless Ibaka’s injured left leg swells up to the size of the Devon Tower this afternoon or the pain becomes unbearable he will be there for his teammates because the pain of not being there would be much worse.
“When the doctor told me I would not be able to play in the playoff, I cried actually,” and it looked like he might cry again today just reliving that moment.
“So now to be back and to have an opportunity to play tonight it feels great.”
Ibaka will use that emotional feeling to dull the physical pain he knows is coming.