Ibaka makes the Thunder roll


Imagine a Martian landed in your backyard just before Game 1 of this year's Western Conference finals and you invited him in to watch. Imagine this Martian had an IQ far beyond yours, but he knew nothing about our NBA.

Imagine he enjoyed Game 1 so much, he returned to watch Games 2, 3 and 4 in your living room. When San Antonio fell behind by 27 points in Game 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, this is what the Martian would've said: "I thought you told me this Kevin Durant won the Most Valuable Player award?"

Yes, he won what we call the MVP.

Martian: "This makes no sense to me. Clearly, this Serge Ibaka is more valuable than Durant. To paraphrase these Mi0 water enhancer commercials: He changes everything. When Ibaka was injured, this Durant and this Westbrook had no chance in Games 1 and 2. With Ibaka back, now San Antonio has no chance. I would rather have Ibaka join my Framily."

The Martian would be right.

When a calf injury forced Ibaka to miss Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio, Durant and Russell Westbrook were reduced to forcing up lots of low-impact, your-turn/my-turn jump shots, and the Thunder lost by 17 and 35. Thirty-five!

Meanwhile Tim Duncan, 38, looked like he had found the fountain of dunk and Tiago Splitter started to resemble Kareem Abdul Splitter. Yet when Ibaka suddenly became He's-back-a -- as I kept predicting on "First Take" he would in Game 3 -- Duncan immediately looked 68 and Splitter might as well have been playing his first year of organized basketball. These were the Spurs' fifth and sixth games overall against the Thunder with Ibaka in the lineup, and all six times, the Spurs have looked overmatched and demoralized.

The Martian would figure the heavily hyped new movie "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is about all of the ways Ibaka kills San Antonio. He has blocked 23 of their shots in those six games, altered what seem like hundreds more, and psychologically terrorized the Spurs into more missed layups than you'll see in your average 8-year-old's church league game. Ibaka is listed at only 6-foot-10, but plays 10-10 against the Spurs -- their equivalent of a fear-striking Baron Samedi in the James Bond movie "Live and Let Die."

It's debatable who plays with more relentless fury, Westbrook or Ibaka.

With Ibaka looming over the lane, Westbrook and other perimeter defenders are mentally freed up to gamble, overplay and suffocate Spurs shooters into jittery air balls and turnovers. And with Ibaka picking and rocket-rolling for dunks or jumpers that lure a lurching Duncan or Splitter away from the basket, Westbrook and Durant can conduct a two-man parade to the basket or free throw line and find many more makeable little pull-up jumpers.

Ibaka made his first four shots of Game 3 (from 19, 20, 18 and 7 feet), and the Spurs haven't forgotten Game 4 of 2012, when he went 11-for-11, most of them midrange jumpers. Good Lord, this season Ibaka made 38 percent of his 3-pointers (23-of-60).

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