Clippers Big Man Is Finally Back, His Game Will Follow

Serge Ibaka LA Clippers

Getty LA Clippers big man Serge Ibaka drives to the basket during a game against the Charlotte Hornets

Sunday night ended up being a wild one for the LA Clippers. After trailing by as many as 13 points during the first half of their game against the Charlotte Hornets, the Clippers were in a dogfight as the third quarter transitioned into the fourth.

Then it happened. At the 7:11 mark of the final period, Terry Rozier knocked down a three-point shot to push the Hornets’ lead back to nine points; they wouldn’t score again until the clock read 1:10.

Led by Reggie Jackson — who scored 10 points and dropped three dimes in the fourth quarter — Los Angeles scored 22 unanswered points and escaped the Staples Center with a 120-106 win.

While the comeback was a big moment for the 5-4 Clippers, though, the return of Serge Ibaka was perhaps even bigger for the shorthanded and scuffling club. Alas, the team will likely have to wait just a little bit longer for his game to follow suit.


Ibaka’s ‘Rough’ Return

For his part, Ibaka described his 2021-22 season debut as “rough,” which just about hits the nail on the head. All told, the 13-year pro logged just eight minutes on the floor, during which he missed all three of his field-goal attempts, scored zero points and committed five fouls.

Still, he knows that actually being out on the court was just the first step of a lengthy process. A return to form is going to take more time, and the Clippers aren’t looking to force the issue by giving him a ton of minutes right off the bat.

“I need to be patient; I have to. After a long time, I have to,” he said. “Even like I have to tell myself to be patient because I already had been putting a lot of time, a lot of work all summer. Now I’m back, the most important thing is I’m back, so I’m just gonna be a little patient and I’m gonna get there.”

Ibaka noted during the post-game presser that he wasn’t even sure when he had last played. For the record, it was a May 25 playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks. However, even that frame of reference doesn’t quite capture how long the Clippers have been without their man in the middle.

Since a March 14 game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Ibaka has played a grand total of 63 minutes.

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Will Lue Employ a Twin Towers Lineup?

Ibaka’s return can only be looked at as a good thing for the Clippers, who have been without a myriad of core players throughout the early campaign — and Kawhi Leonard’s return is likely a long way off still. In particular, his ability to space the floor could create room for the struggling Eric Bledsoe to create for himself and others.

However, his return does present a challenge for coach Tyronn Lue.

In Ibaka’s absence, big men Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein have both been plus performers for Los Angeles. So far this season, the seven-footers have combined to average 15.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest, while shooting 63% from the field.

So, what happens to them now that Ibaka has returned? One thing that we’re unlikely to see is some kind of double-big lineup. When asked whether he might consider putting one of the other centers out on the court with Ibaka, Lue paused for a long time before saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know. But I hope not.”

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