The Oklahoma City Thunder just got dealt a pretty hefty blow to their NBA title hopes. According to Marc Spears via Twitter, the star big man is expected to miss the remainder of the 2014 NBA Playoffs due to a calf injury.
The official diagnosis of Ibaka’s calf injury is a grade three strain, which means he has a partial tear in the muscle. Further time on the court could cause a complete tear, which beyond being extremely painful, could require a lengthy rehab that would stem into next season.
Rather than have one of their star players play through intense pain and risk further injury, the Thunder are expected to shut Ibaka down in an effort to get him back next season at 100%.
Ibaka wasn’t having an amazing post-season run in terms of offense, but his fiery competitiveness and defensive presence was more than felt in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Ibaka’s mere presence made scoring down low very difficult for prolific scorers Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin through the first two rounds.
In fact, Ibaka had a history of success against the Thunder’s round three opponent, the San Antonio Spurs. With great size and shot-blocking ability, Ibaka figured to be a tough matchup for Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter down low in the paint.
Without Ibaka being able to go, the Thunder will be forced to turn to second-year big man Steven Adams, who is expected to start alongside center Kendrick Perkins against the Spurs when the two meet for the first time in their Western Conference Finals seven game series. Nick Collison is also expected to get extra minutes in lieu of Ibaka’s absence.
Ibaka continued his steady rise for the Thunder throughout the 2013-14 season, elevating his numbers across the board for the fifth straight season. Ibaka finished the regular season with a career high 15.1 points per game, while also boasting a career high 8.8 rebounds per game.
Known for his game-changing shot-blocking and shot-altering, Ibaka also remained a force on the defensive end during the regular season, as he blocked 2.7 shots per game, giving him four straight seasons with at least 2.4 blocked shots per contest.