May 17th, 2014
Persevering as One

In the NBA, no team goes through a season unscathed by adversity. It’s what the organization has done in preparation for the unexpected, along with how it responds, that is the key to persevering through trying circumstances.

On Friday, the Thunder learned that forward Serge Ibaka suffered a Grade 2 strain in a part of his calf called the plantaris in the Thunder’s Game 6 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said Ibaka, perennially in the discussion for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, will likely miss the remainder of the 2014 Playoffs. During the regular season, Ibaka recorded career-bests with 15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game, while blocking 2.7 shots per contest and leading the league in total blocks. In the 2013-14 postseason, Ibaka averaged 12.2 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting a blistering 61.6 percent from the field.

For those in the organization, it was disappointing news for not just the team, but for Ibaka personally, whose passion, intensity and dedication to his craft are unique and unparalleled. As a core member of the franchise who has been an integral part of the team’s rise over the past six seasons, Ibaka will certainly be missed as a teammate.

“We want to express our disappointment for Serge, who we know is an elite competitor and has proven to be a tremendous teammate and was playing great basketball throughout the season,” Presti said. “He had a huge impact on our season to date.”

Under Head Coach Scott Brooks, the Thunder has always been a no excuse team, leaning on the strength of its leadership in the locker room to look past adversity with their eyes up, ready to take on whatever lays ahead. Over the years, as Thunder players, coaches and staff have grown and developed, the team had to deal with adverse circumstances and get past them as a unit.

“Our expectation moving forward is that we’ll respond admirably,” Presti continued. “We know we’ll have to adapt and have to adjust. We’ll have to honor the circumstances that we have by being emotionally resilient and not getting sidetracked as we go forward emotionally or with our concentration.”

Those experiences, or “shared scars” as Presti calls them, are markers of reasons why the locker room is so close-knit and why everyone has trust in every man in the locker room. Throughout this 2013-14 season, Brooks and his staff have worked with every player to try to get them as prepared as possible for a potential role change in the postseason. That work done before adversity strikes can be the difference between success and failure once new challenges and circumstances present themselves.

“We have, as an organization, been in some situations in the pass where we’ve had to deal with certain things,” Presti explained. “How we respond to those has always been the measure of the team we’ve had in Oklahoma City.”

“In pro sports, you have to deal with the unexpected,” Presti said. “This is one of those cases. It’s what you do in advance of that. We’re more prepared than we have been in the past to deal with something like this. We have to apply that.”

As a result, there are a bevy of options that Brooks and his staff have moving forward. During the regular season, the Thunder inserted Perry Jones into the starting lineup when Ibaka missed a game due to injury, while Nick Collison and Steven Adams stepped up to play more minutes in the second half of the Thunder’s close out victory against the Clippers on Thursday night.

The versatility, flexibility, athleticism and depth of the Thunder’s roster will give the Thunder coaching staff different lineups and combinations to work with over the next few days as the team prepares for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs.

“The coaching staff has done an excellent job this season of developing the entire roster and creating a lot of different options,” Presti said. “The coaches will take a thorough look at everything and put together a game plan that they feel like optimizes the group in this particular series.”