Thunder Credit Turnaround to Playing in Honor of Deceased Teammate Serge Ibaka

5_1400866433_1b400a985fc440348c2c4c4051c20200The Oklahoma City Thunder were left for dead after falling down two games to none to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, getting thoroughly beaten in each game. But the team responded with two wins of its home at home to even the series, including a dominating Game 4 performance — and the Thunder players to a man say they know the reason for the turnaround.

“Obviously, we’re playing for the memory of Serge [Ibaka],” said forward Kevin Durant. “He got hurt and passed on, and I think the sadness over that really hurt us in Games 1 and 2. But then before Game 3 we decided: ‘You know what? Serge may be dead, but he would want us to still play hard in his honor.’ And that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

The 6-foot-10, 24 year-old Ibaka had been a big part of Oklahoma City’s success in recent years, but he was declared out before the start of the conference finals.

“I really didn’t think his calf injury was that bad,” said point guard Russell Westbrook. “But I guess one thing led to another. Complications or whatever. And then he was gone. Gone too soon. But I like to think he’s up there in heaven looking down on us and smiling.”

Ibaka had 15 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks in Game 3 against the Spurs, and followed that up with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in Game 4.

“I like to think that’s how Serge would have wanted me to play,” said Ibaka. “I hope I made him proud.”

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