King of the Congo Returns
I-blocka is backa. That’s right Serge Ibaka has returned from a strained calf injury that was rumored to be season ending. However, that nonsense was disposed of in Game 3 when Ibaka suited up and made his presence known with 15 points, seven boards and four blocks en route to a 106-97 victory. It was in stark contrast from the humiliating defeat the Thunder suffered only four days prior when they were demolished in San Antonio by 35 points and found themselves down 2-0 in the series.
Oklahoma City, buoyed by Ibaka’s return, tied the series in front of a raucous Thunder crowd by the score of 105-92. Russell Westbrook’s scintillating performance, in which he drained 40 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, was no doubt sparked by Ibaka’s defensive presence as well as his rebounding prowess.
To that point it should be noted that Oklahoma City, just two point favorites in NBA odds in both game’s 3 & 4, had 21 fast break points to just zero for the Spurs in Game 4. Furthermore, the Thunder allowed 38 points in the paint in their last two games versus 60 in the first two contests. Now just who do you think had an impact on those stats?
But what happens now? The Spurs have been dominant, to say the least, on their own court and the Thunder rolls right into a storm in San Antonio. Will Ibaka be the game changer in Game 5 or will the Spurs be bolstered by their home crowd and familiar surroundings? It’s a subject for serious debate.
OKC not only won outright but covered the NBA odds in all four regular season contests between these two Western Conference powerhouses including two at the AT&T Center. The key to success will be whether or not Ibaka’s injury is withstanding the rigors of his grueling battles in the paint and is he getting better or worse as the series wears on? The word on the street is that his calf has healed and he is experiencing no residual effects since his return. Is that team propaganda or fact? We will know a bit more after Thursday night’s showdown in San Antonio.
The Philadelphia Phillies are struggling in the NL East and the news that their ace Cliff Lee will be sidelined for the next month couldn’t make anyone happy in the City of Brotherly Love. But misery loves company and rumors persist that Clay Buchholz has never fully recovered from the shoulder injury that plagued him last season and a trip to the DL, allegedly for a twisted knee, is imminent.
Want more? How about Jose Fernandez blowing up and out of the Marlins' season roster or Mat Latos of the Reds in and out of the lineup with various and sundry ailments? And what’s up with Justin Verlander whose stark reduction in velocity has tongues wagging that he too is covering up an injury of some sort?
In deference to the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets fans we couldn’t talk about ailing pitchers without mentioning Patrick Corbin and Matt Harvey respectively, both who have yet to throw a pitch in anger this season and most likely will not.
We know that pitching wins baseball games and without these pitchers in the lineup or at the top of their game, we should consider that all these teams will sputter (and most have already sputtered) throughout the long, MLB season.