Miami, FL – Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka finally put his stamp on the NBA Finals but not with his vaunted shot-blocking ability.
The Thunder power forward stuck his foot in his mouth on Monday by questioning LeBron James' defensive acumen, a day after the Miami superstar did a number on his OKC counterpart, Kevin Durant, in the fourth quarter of a 91-85 Game 3 win.
"LeBron is not a good defender," Ibaka, the runner-up in the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year voting, told reporters. "He can play defense for two to three minutes but not 48 minutes. LeBron can't play (Kevin Durant) one-on- one."
Some of that is actually factually correct.
James, the leading vote-getter for the NBA's all-defensive team, can't play Durant one-on-one for an entire game and shut the three-time scoring champion down -- no one can.
A cross between George Gervin and current Miami assistant Bob McAdoo, the lengthy Durant is virtually unstoppable when the jumper is falling and he has his mid-range game going.
That said, it certainly was an interesting time for Ibaka to call out anyone's defense. The Heat lived in the restricted area during their Game 3 win thanks in large part to Ibaka's failures.
"Iblocka" was late on his rotations time and time again, especially early in the contest when the Heat were able to deposit 10 dunks or lay-ups in the first quarter.
In fact Miami couldn't buy a jump shot all night in Game 3, particularly in the first half when the Heat were 15-for-22 in tight and a dismal 3-for-22 from outside. Overall, Miami scored an almost mind-numbing 77 of its 91 points from inside the paint or the free throw line.
Despite that OKC coach Scott Brooks lauded center Kendrick Perkins.
"I thought Perk had probably his best game of the series," Brooks said. "He was active, he was defending, I thought he did a great job. He was rebounding offensively and defensively and he was really plugging the paint."
On the other hand there was nary a mention of Ibaka from Brooks.
You do the math.
Ibaka can certainly be a dominant presence in the middle when swatting shots but too often he gets caught up in the trash, losing his primary responsibility to chase a drive to the hoop. That leaves Chris Bosh or another Heat cutter with a bunny or an easy offensive rebound.
James, on the other hand, is an elite perimeter defender. Similar to Ibaka, he's adept at the highlight reel plays like chasedown blocks but he's also a fundamentally sound player, one that uses positioning and hand movement to make things more difficult for most.
With Durant, James was able to use his prodigious strength late in Game 3 to push K.D. off his favorite spots. Perhaps more importantly, he can check the superstar without drawing obvious fouls, something Durant conversely hasn't figured out to this point.
At the end of the day, however, whether Ibaka is right or wrong about James is inconsequential.
He's a role player who hasn't been performing his role and it's simply not his place to give the opposition any bulletin board material.