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Clippers’ Serge Ibaka (back) ruled out for Game 3 vs Mavs

Serge Ibaka, Clippers, Mavs

The Los Angeles Clippers learned a few hours before tipoff that forward Serge Ibaka will not be able to play in Game 3 of the team’s first-round NBA playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks. The Clips’ frontcourt is now even more limited heading into Friday’s contest in Dallas, where the Mavs smell blood.

The Ibaka injury and lack of availability doesn’t rate as a massive story, given that a hampered Ibaka played just six minutes in Game 2 of this series in Los Angeles. The Clippers would suffer a lot more if Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, or Patrick Beverley endured a significant injury. Ibaka’s lack of availability isn’t a death blow for coach Ty Lue’s team, which is down 2-0 in the series. That much can and should be noted.

However, it also needs to be said that not having another frontcourt piece means Lue has fewer people to turn to on his roster, in an attempt to contain the Mavs’ high-flying scoring machine. Ibaka was never going to get the primary defensive assignment of guarding Luka Doncic, who is almost singlehandedly destroying the Clippers in this series. However, Ibaka contains value as a rim protector with length who could deter Doncic and other Mavs in the paint on drives to the basket.

The other reason this injury absence matters is that the Clippers took Ibaka from the 2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors, believing he would in fact be an important piece of the playoff puzzle for a franchise which has infamously failed to make the conference finals at any prior point in its history. Ibaka was supposed to be the savvy veteran who would play crunch-time defense, hit an occasional 3-pointer, and provide rebounding help. Now that option is off the board.

The Clippers will need Ivica Zubac, Nicolas Batum, and Marcus Morris to all improve significantly in Ibaka’s absence. They have all been relatively quiet in this series, and they didn’t offer anything dynamic in Game 2, combining for 20 points (an average of 6.7 points per player). Zubac scored only two points in Game 2 and has not made the impact Los Angeles needs him to make in this series.

The Clippers know that if they lose Game 3 on Friday in Dallas, they’re cooked in this series. They know that if they lose this series, a massive roster shakeup — and a near future without championship contention — will become part of their new reality. The pressure is on for a team which won’t be able to count on Serge Ibaka in Game 3 against the Mavs.