SAN ANTONIO — The three words are simple and to the point. When an athlete goes down with an injury, the team slogan soon turns to “Next Man Up.”
That’s the case for Oklahoma City as they begin the Western Conference Finals at 8 p.m. tonight against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. The Thunder will be without forward Sere Ibaka, who has a grade two strain of his left calf.
But the team has already moved on to Next Man Up mode.
“It’s definitely a setback for us,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He does a lot for our team. But we have a mentality here of next man up. We’ve had to overcome some injuries this past season. And we have an expectation the locker room sets for itself regardless of the circumstances. We definitely have enough to still win this series.”
It’s the second year in a row the Thunder have suffered a season-ending injury in the postseason and have had to rely on role players to step up. Regardless, Kevin Durant knows neither the Spurs or any other team is going to throw them a pity party.
“It happens in this league,” Durant said. “No body is ever going to feel sorry for us. Nobody cares really. We have to come together and move forward. Guys are going to have to step up. That’s the name of the game.”
During the regular season Ibaka averaged 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds while again leading the NBA in blocked shots. But his effectiveness against the Spurs went deeper into the numbers.
In going 0-4 against Oklahoma City this season, the Spurs shot just 46.6 percent from within five feet of the basket when Ibaka was on the floor and 63.6 percent when he wasn’t.
Overall the Spurs shot 42.3 percent against the Thunder in the regular season with Ibaka protecting the rim and 51.4 percent when Serge was on the bench, according to InsideThunder.com.