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.
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.