Serge Ibaka played on the same court as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook last night, and even with the Thunder All-Star duo combining for 91 points, Ibaka himself played at a level that was equal to his Thunder teammates. Ibaka has been on a tear in the month of February, averaging five blocks a game and almost a double-double with 14 points and 8.9 rebounds per outing. Even more impressive, Ibaka has now recorded three double-digit block games in the last three weeks. His efforts culminated in his (and the franchise's) first triple-double that involved blocked shots. On the night, Ibaka went for 14 points, 15 rebounds (8 offensive), and 11 blocks.
Here are Ibaka's highlights from last night:
Three things stand out to me from these highlights:
- Ibaka showed great touch shooting the ball tonight, hitting some big jumpers and scoring put-backs off of offensive rebounds. When Ibaka is a scoring threat that the opposing defense has to acknowledge, the Thunder offense becomes much more fluid and dynamic.
- Ibaka has shown tremendous growth in his shot blocking since the early part of the season. If you recall, early on he was excited to block the ball into the 3rd row of the stands. By contrast, last night Ibaka did a great job not only blocking the shot but keeping the ball in play. Ibaka demonstrated this point perfectly in his final block of the night, where he defended Arron Afflalo's shot attempt, caught the ball, and then smartly handed the ball off to Kevin Durant so that Durant would be the guy that got sent to the free throw line. Ibaka was positively giddy after that play.
Durant on Ibaka's final block:
"You might not believe me but at the end coach said to press up on Afflalo and let him go to the rim. That sounds kind of weird, right?"
It does sound kind of weird. However when you break it down, it says two things: 1) coach Scott Brooks was smart enough to realize that Afflalo was the Nuggets' most dangerous scoring option, so by having Durant press up on him, he took away the 3-point shot (Afflalo had buried a 3-pointer in the Nuggets' previous trip) AND he took away the drive because Ibaka was waiting at the rim; and 2) Brooks had so much confidence in Ibaka's defense that he put the play into the hands of his 22 year old power forward. Brooks trusted Ibaka, and Ibaka delivered. It was a huge step forward in the midst of a huge night for Serge Ibaka.