LeBron James and Serge Ibaka added a little spice to Tuesday's NBA Finals showdown between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder when they engaged in some verbal sparring ahead of Game Four.
James, like Ibaka a member of the NBA's All-Defensive First Team, received credit for holding the Thunder's three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant to just four points in the fourth quarter of Sunday's Game Three victory that gave Miami a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Ibaka told reporters before practice on Monday that James was "not a good defender", only played defense "two or three minutes at a time", and that he needed help from his team mates because he could not guard Durant on his own.
"I don't really care what he says, he's stupid," James responded on Tuesday. "Everyone says something to me every series, then (the media) tries to get a quote. It's stupid."
The banter was surprising given both players are considered among the league's best defenders. Ibaka, 22, has registered the most blocked shots in the NBA in each of the last two seasons, and James is a four-time member of the All-Defensive team.
"LeBron can't play (Kevin Durant) one-on-one. They're playing good defense like a team," Ibaka said in the comments reported by the Palm Beach Post newspaper.
Miami has been rotating defenders on Durant, who is averaging 31 points on 57 percent shooting in the series, although James was his primary defender in the fourth quarter on Sunday when he shot 1-for-5 from the floor.
"For me as a defender, I just try to make plays and try to keep my body in front of a great player," James said at the Heat's shootaround on Tuesday.
"When I'm on him, I'm just trying to make it tough for him to make shots."
In addition to the Finals, James and Ibaka could face off at the London Olympics.
Ibaka, a native of Congo, plays for the Spanish national team, who are expected to be a medals contender in London.
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)