Serge Ibaka is on his Elmer’s.
Don’t front like you ain’t use Elmer’s Glue in your second grade art class. It got all over the place and was sticky and messy, but you needed it to complete your masterpiece. It held a certain irreplaceable purpose. When the glue was applied just right, it brought all of the other magnificent pieces together. That’s what Ibaka is for OKC.
The last couple of weeks, as OKC has surged to an 8-3 record (5-0 at home); Ibaka’s all-around contributions have been off the hook. Thursday night‘s rematch against the Clippers was no different, as Ibaka shot 8-10 from the field, scored 17 points, grabbed five rebounds and sent his usual shots sailing into the stands. OKC got revenge on the Clippers and won handily at home 105-91. They certainly couldn't lose with Jay-Z and Beyonce in the crowd.
Ibaka was 6-6 with 13 points in just 17 minutes of action when he got ejected after a shoving match with LA forwards Blake Griffin and Matt Barnes on November 13th. OKC lost that game 111-103 and Ibaka’s absence helped seal OKC’s fate.
On Thursday night, Ibaka was a difference maker for the entire four quarters. Durant led the way with 28, but Ibaka was popping jumpers, scoring inside, moving without the ball and doing a dope Dennis The Menace routine on D. He set the tone early in the game by throwing a DeAndre Jordan attempted dunk back in the big man’s face. Brandon Knight is sure to send a thank you letter.
Ibaka gets down like that though. He never backs down to physical aggression. His NBA journey is one in which he came up fighting and scraping. There was no McDonald’s All-American game or blue chip status. He played in France and Spain and got discovered by NBA scouts, catching wreck at various international showcases. He even won the MVP award at the Reebok Eurocamp. He was a guy who was the typical “project” with off-the-meatrack athleticism. At 6-10, his size and agility made him an appealing selection for the Seattle Supersonics, who picked Ibaka fourth in 2008 NBA Draft.
He became the first player from the Republic of Congo to be selected, and then signed a three-year contract with Ricoh Manresa from the ACB League in Spain and averaged a modest 7.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1 block in 16 minutes per game. Then in July of 2009, the Oklahoma City Thunder paid the buyout, and signed him to a contract.
Since joining this OKC squad Ibaka’s been to an NBA Finals and carved a significant role for himself on a team with championship aspirations. OKC has the next generation’s Jordan-Pippen combo in KD and Russell Westbrook, and their job is to attack the cup and drain buckets on opposing suckers. Ibaka, on the other hand, has been a guy who wears more hats than Spike Lee in the ‘90s, with unconditional dedication to the task.
His defense has been his claim to fame. He’s the two-time defending NBA shot-blocks king. In the past, Ibaka’s offense has left something to be desired like a play-by-play from Karen “Superhead” Steffans. Keeping with the M.O. of most raw, big men, Ibaka's been a shot-blocking bandit and round mound of rebound.
Ibaka averages a light 9.9 points per game, 7.2 rebounds and almost three blocks for his career, but it seems that as the Thunder become a deep, battle-tested, well-oiled machine, “Ibaka The Shocka’s” (He’s earned a nickname at this point) skill set is soaring. What more could OKC ask for?
When teams are challenging for NBA titles, there are always certain surprises that can castrate your championship hopes in a negative way—like a key player performing below expectations (Tyson Chandler with the Knicks in 2012 playoffs). Some teams get lucky, and a key player’s developmental process accelerates beyond expectations.
Such is the case with Ibaka and OKC. Son dropped 13.2 ppg last season and flashed what he was capable of offensively. This season, he has really extended his game, averaging 14 points and crazy-glue crashing the boards (10.5 rpg). The 24-year-old is averaging double digit rebounds for the first time in his career, and his continued development could be one of the first clues hinting at a future OKC Dynasty.
The Clippers Chris Paul was once again the star of the night as he padded his NBA-record 13th straight double-double to start a season. Unfortunately for Doc and the crew, it wasn’t enough to off-set the complimentary smack down of Ibaka, who always seems to know how to swing the game back in OKC’s favor.
With the Clippers cutting into an OKC lead with 5:20 left in the third quarter, Ibaka drains a wide open 15-foot jumper to put OKC back up by eight at 66-58. It sparked an OKC run that culminated with him nailing another jumper from the baseline to extend the lead to 13 at 75-62. Welcome to the future of OKC, where if you dare Ibaka to shoot, he’s going to catch a couple bodies in the process.
He also found time to draw a foul tangling with his nemesis Blake Griffin (27 points, 10 rebounds), with about 2:25 left in the third quarter, and capped his night off by blocking Griffin who was trying to back him down with 5:07 left in the game and OKC up 95-84.
Ibaka’s energy and emphatic versatility prompted a TNT analyst to say, “(Ibaka) is so good because he’s got length, anticipation and explosion (on defense).”
These days, he’s also got an offensive game that makes OKC even that much tougher.