(right) has been upgraded to day-to-day with a calf injury. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
The Thunder have upgraded Serge Ibaka to "day-to-day" after a left calf strain forced him to miss the first two games of the Western Conference finals against the Spurs.
The unexpected update comes one week after Oklahoma City announced that Ibaka was expected to miss the remainder of the 2014 playoffs after injuring his calf during the Thunder's Game 6 closeout win over the Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.
“The abundance of blood and therefore swelling in Serge’s calf has reduced substantially and unexpectedly, allowing a level of movement and stability not thought possible after the initial diagnosis," Thunder GM Sam Presti said in a statement. "Based on both imaging and physical exam, the considerable swelling in the calf indicated the likelihood of a certain degree of injury, and that established the original time frame for recovery.
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"With this new information, and in an effort to keep his status current, we are now listing him as day-to-day with the understanding that there is a possibility for him to play in this series.”
Presti also noted that Ibaka has "yet to complete a full basketball workout" and that his activity is currently limited to "walking and light basketball drills."
Ibaka, 24, averaged 15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 32.9 minutes per game in 81 appearances this season. A key piece for the Thunder on both sides of the ball, the ultra-athletic Ibaka finished fourth in the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year voting thanks in part to his elite shot-blocking ability.
In Ibaka's absence, the Thunder have been pounded inside by the Spurs, who compiled a total of 120 points in the paint in their blowout victories in Games 1 and 2. Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks has been forced to turn to rookie center Steven Adams for bigger minutes. He also experimented with smallball lineups in Game 1, with little success.
The Spurs may now feel justified for expressing skepticism when first informed last week that Ibaka would be sidelined for the series.
"I don't really believe it," Tony Parker said on Sunday, before Game 1, according to the San Antonio Express-News. "I'll believe when I see [Monday] he is not on the court. It's hard to believe. We'll see."
Kawhi Leonard added: "We’re still not sure if he’s going to play or not, but it doesn’t matter. The Thunder are still a very good team.”
Brooks, though, repeatedly stated that he did not expect Ibaka to return against San Antonio.
"Serge is out, he's not coming back," Brooks told reporters on Monday following Oklahoma City's Game 1 defeat. "Contrary to what San Antonio was thinking, he's not coming back. ... He's not coming through those doors."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made it clear to reporters on Friday that he wasn't exactly taken aback by Ibaka's medical improvement.
"I'm shocked, I'm so surprised," Popovich deadpanned. "We knew he'd be back."
San Antonio leads the series 2-0 with Game 3 set for Oklahoma City's Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday. It's possible, but not yet confirmed, that Ibaka could play in Game 3.
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