Sunday afternoon featured a wildly entertaining contest between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers that ended with a 108-104 victory for OKC. However, rather than remembering the Clippers’ comeback or the performance of Russell Westbrook, people are most likely going to remember the moment when Serge Ibaka hit Blake Griffin below-the-belt.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the Thunder leading 99-93, Matt Barnes launched a three. The shot went in, but after jostling for the potential rebound, Ibaka delivered a shot straight to the groin of Griffin. The play resulted in a Flagrant-1, meaning two shots and the ball for the Clippers and that Ibaka stays in the game. However, the incident has left many wondering whether or not Ibaka will be suspended.
The Thunder have to be praying that Ibaka won’t miss any time because of the incident. Sure, no team likes to lose one of their starters to being suspended, but Ibaka is particularly important to Oklahoma City.
Kevin Durant and Westbrook obviously form the core of this Thunder team, but Ibaka is the man doing the dirty work for them. Quietly, he is leading the team in rebounds (7.9) and blocks (2.9) per game and is also averaging 13.6 points per contest on 55.9 percent shooting. He’s undoubtedly their stalwart on the defensive end of the floor, but also has developed into their best front court player on offense as well.
It’s also important to note that Nick Collison would most likely be Ibaka’s replacement in the starting lineup. For the season, Collison is averaging just 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, which are less than Ibaka’s numbers, even though Ibaka plays just 31.9 minutes per game. Collison is also far less superior defensively than Ibaka.
Even though it wouldn’t be for more than a game or two, the Thunder can’t afford to play any games without Ibaka. They are currently just three games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the NBA’s Western Conference. That’s not exactly the situation where a team wants to lose games because their star power forward hit someone in the groin; it’s the time where they want to make a run, which they probably can’t do without Ibaka.