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Serge Ibaka
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Serge Ibaka
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Serge Ibaka‘s absence during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was extremely noticeable.

The San Antonio Spurs scored 66 points in the paint against the Oklahoma City Thunder, which was missing its premier rim protector during the 122-105 series-opening loss Monday night.

Fear not. The shot-blocker is optimistic he’ll return to the court.

Despite being ruled out of the playoffs due to a lower leg injury, Ibaka is willing to play through the pain and is considering starting some stationary shooting later on this week, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Far from the beginnings of these Western Conference finals, far from these unfortified Oklahoma City Thunder, Serge Ibaka is defiant and determined for the world to witness his Willis Reed moment. Ibaka, so proud, so professional, is respectively raging against his injury diagnosis.

Ibaka is back in Oklahoma City for Games 1 and 2 – ruled out of the playoffs with a lower leg injury – but his willingness to play with pain, his loyalty to the championship cause, has him thinking about starting some stationary shooting late this week, a league source told Yahoo Sports on Monday.

But while Ibaka believes he can make the improbable a reality, his coach, Scott Brooks, reiterated after the Game 1 loss that the team does not expect Ibaka back for the remainder of the series.

His sentiment was echoed by league MVP Kevin Durant.

“We’re a no-excuse team. Serge is out. He’s not coming back,” Brooks said. “Contrary to what San Antonio was thinking, he’s not coming back. He’s not coming through those doors.”

“Look, Serge is not going to be here,” Durant said. “He’s injured for the rest of the postseason, so we’ve got to move past that and just keep playing as a team.”

The timetable for a possible Ibaka return may allow him to return for the NBA Finals, if the Thunder make it there. The team believes the injury would require a recovery period between one and two months.

One hope Ibaka is clinging to is that he does not have a tear in his plantaris muscle. Recovery for a tear is between 4-6 weeks, followed by another 2-4 weeks after the swelling subsides in which the patient walks with only a mild limp.

If the Western Conference Finals lasts all seven games, it would end on June 2. If the NBA Finals start later that week, it’ll likely be over by the time Ibaka is fully healed, meaning it is a long shot for Ibaka to realistically return.