Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Serge Ibaka fights to win his debut season for the Clippers

Making a cross on his white Clippers jersey and rising from his seat on the scorerboard, Serge Ibaka pointed two fingers at the ceiling of Staples Center on Sunday in his final minutes before playing for the first time since 25 May.

The 32-year-old center missed his first shot with a 19-foot jump. With fake and dribble, he smoothly bypassed Charlotte’s defender’s too-strong closure, only to pass the ball out of bounds to a teammate who wasn’t there.

He collected five fouls, a rebound, a pass and a block and missed all three in eight minutes in the Clippers 120-106 win over Charlotte as the team is wary of his recovery.

“I’m healthy, I’m back, I’m in good shape,” Ibaka said. “Yes, that will be fun.”

But his debut this season?

“It was rude,” he admitted.

Ibaka has shown patience to gradually build up his minutes over the coming weeks. Not only he slowly found his way.

The Clippers were 13 behind, and after the break they were in the lead by eight, but saw that the lead gave way due to their carelessness. They were down 102–93 seven minutes before the game after a pair of interceptions from Paul George intercepting the Hornets 17–2.

Of the 20 missions, George was responsible for eight; he has 22 in his last three games.

However, two days after turning a 20-point hole into a 20-point victory, the Clippers once again proved they were comfortable under the pressure.

This was followed by a 22-0 race in which Reggie Jackson found Luke Kennard for a three-point, Terence Mann found Jackson on his own open triplet, and Mann slammed into a split defense for a one-handed dunk. Charlotte has scored four points in the last seven minutes, despite not making a revolution in the last quarter.

“It was our defense,” said Clippers coach Tyrone Liu. “Our defenses have really improved, our physical strength, our attention to detail has become much better.”

George has 20 points in nine rebounds and eight assists, and has joined LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul as the only active players with at least 14,500 career points.

Jackson scored 19 points, Kennard 18, and Mann 17. Like salt in Charlotte’s wound, Nicholas Batum, a player who was refused to give way to Gordon Hayward a year ago – although he was still paying part of Batum’s salary – fell 16 points. with six rebounds and three steals. Steeped in an offensive slump, opening defender Eric Bledsoe hasn’t played in the last nine minutes as Lou ended with a squad of flanks featuring Mann, Kennard and Jackson.

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It would be unfair Sunday to expect this version of Ibaki to resemble the one who led the NBA in blocking over the past decade, although his most physically impressive performance was the fourth quarter block when Cody Martin tried to dunk. The question is whether Ibaka will still be able to act as a threat to the rim and floor spacing at both ends that the Clippers believed they were getting when signing him as a free agent in 2019 over the coming months.

He won’t be the batsman forever like Sunday; The Clippers’ playoff expectations depend on how successful Ibaka is.

“No pain, this is the most important part,” Liu said. “Because we know he will get his rhythm back in defense and striking.”

In September, Ibaka said he wished he had surgery before June. When asked by Sunday what prevents him from doing this, he objected.

“I don’t need to speak now,” he said. “I don’t want some people to look bad.”

Although aspiring striker Marcus Morris (knee) missed his seventh game in a row, and the injured Kawhi Leonard was nowhere to be seen on the Clippers bench, Ibaki’s return is another piece Lou has at his disposal, and as the coach admitted, the rotations will have to be reconfigured. … he just got a feel for it in eight games.

But one future combination already seems unlikely.

Liu paused when asked if he could play alongside backup centers Ibaka and Isaiah Hartenstein before answering, “I don’t know. Hopefully not. “Then he started laughing and asked why, said that” anything is possible “in the current NBA, referring to Cleveland, who started from almost three seven feet.

Removing Hartenstein from the rotation will deprive the team of one of the most reliable triplets.

He, Mann and Kennard helped the Clippers outperform their opponents by more than 23 points per 100 possessions.

“Serge is a big piece for us. we know what he’s capable of, ”said Ivica Zubac, who posted his second double-double in a row with 14 points and 11 rebounds. “I think we have three really good tournaments that can be played really well any night. The coach must do whatever he wants in these minutes. “

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