Serge Ibaka is back. The Los Angeles Clippers big man made his return to the court for the first time on May 14 — two months to the day since he last played. The Clips lost to the Houston Rockets, 122-115, but the way Ibaka looked in limited action was a good sign for the team.
The 31-year-old played 17 minutes, going 6-8 from the floor. He scored 15 points while dishing out four assists and hauling in seven rebounds. “I’ve be working for the last two months very hard to get back and I’m getting better every day,” Ibaka said after the game, per Yahoo Sports.
“I’m missed 30 games, so first game coming back, body always feels weird a little bit and tired,” Ibaka added. “I’m still not 100 percent recovered from my injury, but I’m getting there. I’m getting there. I think it was just important for me to come back tonight and play, just to get a little bit of rhythm before the playoffs start.”
The Clips big man also shared his thoughts on losing his starting spot to Ivica Zubac, while also revealing more about his injury and how he plans on developing chemistry with Rajon Rondo.
Ibaka Has Been Dealing With a Pinched Nerve in His Back
“I have a pinched nerve,” Ibaka told The Athletic. “When your nerves come from your disc and go down in your legs, it’s more nerves. Yeah, it’s been a very rough year for me since the beginning of the season.”
His head coach also liked what he saw in Ibaka’s 17 minutes. “He said he felt good, just tired, and that’s to be expected,” Tyronn Lue said. “I thought he moved well, and I thought he got to the offensive rebounds, got some putbacks, rolled to the basket. I thought he looked good for being out 30 games. So that was a good sight to see.”
In the 30 games he was out, Ibaka saw his backup, 24-year-old Ivica Zubac, play well enough to take over his starting spot. When asked how he felt about Zubac sliding into his role, the veteran was a consummate pro.
“Zu, he’s been doing a great job,” Ibaka told the L.A. Times. “Right now, I am not thinking about who is going to start, it’s about the team. One thing about me, when the playoff time come, I am really locked in. All I worry is to go out there and to play and help my team. I won a championship before coming from the bench so it is not the first time. I don’t think that really makes [a] difference, starting or coming from the bench. I am going to put my mind and I am going to work hard to be ready for the playoffs.”
Ibaka Played With Rondo for First Time May 14
“Serge is the final piece of the puzzle,” Lue told the Athletic about what Ibaka’s return meant for the team. “I like what I saw from Serge. I think having Rondo on the floor will help him out a lot as well, because that little short roll where that pop and jump shot is money for him.”
The Clippers’ May 14 loss to Houston was the first time Ibaka has shared the court with Rondo, who came over in a trade with Atlanta in late March. The two had limited minutes together, but Rondo looked for — and found — Ibaka often, and they could be an excellent run-and-gun second unit for the Clips if they start to gel more.
“I’m very excited,” Ibaka said about playing alongside Rondo. “Tonight was the first time we played together. We got a couple of turnovers together, but I really like the fact that me and him can really be dangerous on the pick-and-roll. He’s a great playmaker, and now we just have to communicate — how to read him, he has to read me. I think for the first game playing together, you know, it was not that bad. I’m sure we’re going to keep getting better and better.”