It’s no secret that Serge Ibaka’s ability as a shot-blocker has long been an asset for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they’ve made their ascent to being one of the elite teams in the NBA. As his offensive game has progressed, he’s become even more of an asset for this Thunder team.
However, one of the secrets that not many people seem to mention about Ibaka in years past is that he’s not been a great overall defender. Yes, he can block shots incredibly well, but in terms of being able to body up opponents in the post and deter them from trying to score at the rim, he hasn’t been at an elite level.
On Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs, though, he showed how far he’s progressed in that regard this season. In fact, Ibaka’s defensive effort was an enormous factor as to why the Thunder were able to end the Spurs’ 19-game winning streak by a score of 106-94.
Ibaka’s defense on the interior really rendered almost the entire Spurs frontcourt ineffective. Boris Diaw had eight points on 4-6 shooting, but the trio of Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Jeff Ayres combined to shoot just 7-22 from the floor and get to the line a combined eight times, all eight trips belonging to Duncan. Moreover, the trio barely eclipsed Ibaka’s rebounding total, combining for 13 boards to Ibaka’s 12 on the evening.
More often than not on Thursday, it was Ibaka changing shots in the post or making the Spurs take lower-percentage shots because of how well he was rotating and standing his ground on the interior. Right now, Ibaka has never been better defensively. It paid off on Thursday night and could very well prove to be beneficial in the postseason if the forward can maintain this level of performance.