Down 2-0 in the Western Conference semifinals, the Clippers announced Friday that starting center Serge Ibaka underwent season-ending back surgery on Thursday. The team said Ibaka is expected to make a full recovery.
The back issue that required surgery had already kept Ibaka out for two months in the regular season. He made his return in the team's penultimate game of the season and appeared in four games including the playoffs, but never played more than 19 minutes in a game.
Ibaka had been one of the Clippers' biggest additions last offseason, leaving the Toronto Raptors to sign a mid-level exception contract with the Clippers and reunite with Kawhi Leonard. Taking over starting center duties from Ivica Zubac, Ibaka ended up averaging 11.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
The 31-year-old Ibaka could return to the team next season, as he has a $6.7 million player option for next season.
What will Clippers do without Serge Ibaka?
Losing the possibility of Ibaka's return is a significant blow for the Clippers, especially considering the situation in which the team currently finds itself.
The team is still searching for answers against Jazz center and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, and Ibaka's ability to stretch the floor on offense (he shot 33.9 percent from deep on 2.8 attempts per game) while anchoring the paint on defense could have been reason for hope as the playoff series returns to Los Angeles.
Now, the team will continue to use Zubac and DeMarcus Cousins at center, unless they go small like they did to open Game 1, with Nicolas Batum starting at center. None of those options has worked very well so far in the series.
Game 3 is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. PT on Saturday.
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