The opponent was inferior, injured and in a tailspin. And against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Thunder had little incentive to play up to par. But Serge Ibaka forced his team to come out with the right focus. His energy and effort, seen just 15 seconds in when he caught a pass out of a pick-and-roll with Russell Westbrook and threw down a ferocious one-handed dunk over New Orleans center Greg Stiemsma, pumped life into his teammates and carried the Thunder to a 116-94 pummeling of the Pelicans. Oklahoma City led by as many as 34 points and didn’t trail in the final three quarters. Ibaka sparked the rout, first with his monster finish and then by scoring the next six. But he also supplied a stable of hustle plays throughout the night to keep both his team and its home fans interested in a game most considered a foregone conclusion Friday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Ibaka finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high eight blocked shots. It was his 27th double-double of the season and a showcase performance that illustrated why teammates Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins earlier in the day deemed Ibaka worthy of this year’s Defensive Player of the Year honor. “I thought Serge was spectacular,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He’s right there with the best defensive players in the league. He’s right there with the Defensive Player of the year.” Ibaka patrolled the paint so thoroughly that he blocked five different Pelicans’ shots. “He had eight tonight, but he altered probably 10 others,” Brooks said. “And that’s what makes our defense good. When everybody is participating, and when we do have a breakdown, he’s out there backing everybody up and covering for everybody’s mistakes.” The rejections were just the start of Ibaka’s impact. Take a late-second quarter sequence, for instance. Ibaka stuffed a driving layup attempt by Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans and quickly took off the other way when Durant gathered the rebound. Ibaka then hauled in a fast-break feed from Durant and finished the play with another forceful dunk. Ten minutes later, midway through the third, Ibaka atoned for an errant pass that was picked off by Austin Rivers by hustling back on defense and pounding what would have been a runout dunk against the glass. Ibaka rebounded Rivers’ miss and got it to Russell Westbrook, who then fed Durant for a fast-break dunk. They were two of the Thunder’s 28 fast-break points.
OKC tops short-handed New Orleans Pelicans
The Oklahoman | Apr 12