The final game of the 2011 European Championship turned into a huge block party for Serge Ibaka.
In his first major international competition wearing the colors of the Spanish national team, the 21-year-old Oklahoma City Thunder forward had half of Spain’s 10 blocked shots against France and helped Espana capture the EuroBasket title in Lithuania. Spain and France earned automatic berths for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Ibaka scored just four points in 21 minutes off the bench, but it was his stellar defense that keyed an impressive 98-85 victory for Spain, the second-best team in the world and the biggest threat to the United States next summer. Ibaka completely altered the game with three early monster blocks in the first half that powered Spain to a 36-26 lead.
Barcelona’s Juan Carlos Navarro led the Spaniards with a game-high 27 points. Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol added 17 points and 10 rebounds, while San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker paced France with 26 points.
The addition of the 6-foot-10 Ibaka gives Spain, which already boasts 7-footers Pau and Marc Gasol, the most formidable frontline in the world – even better than whatever the U.S. will put together next year. Ibaka prefers to face-up on offense, and he doesn’t mind giving way to the post to the Gasol brothers.
Ibaka calls Pau Gasol possibly the most talented center with the best fundamentals in the NBA. “It will be a dream to play with him,” Ibaka told the Associated Press back in July.
Flashback to the gold medal game against the U.S. in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in which Spain struggled to keep up with the Americans athletically, especially when LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony played power forward. With Ibaka on the roster, Spain will no longer have that issue.
Ibaka was granted Spanish nationality in July, clearing the way for him to help Spain defend its European championship. “Spain is a country that has given me a lot,” Ibaka told the Associated Press. “It will be an honor to give Spain back all that it has given me on the court.”
Ibaka was born in the Republic of Congo but played for Spanish clubs for three years before moving to the NBA in 2009. He maintains a residence in Barcelona.