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Clippings: Serge Ibaka asked to play in the G League to regain his footing

Ty Lue says he’s never seen a veteran do that.

Agua Caliente Clippers v G League Ignite Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

Serge Ibaka played in his first two games after back surgery this week to diminishing returns. His uneven debut against Charlotte was followed by five and a half more scoreless minutes spanning the first and second quarter against Portland, and he never got second shift.

After his return, Ibaka thanked Ty Lue for getting him back in the game despite his ineffectiveness in his first stint. That didn’t happen against the Trail Blazers, partly because the Clippers couldn’t afford to put Ibaka out there in a close game. The Clippers aren’t giving developmental minutes to any of their rookies this year, and Ibaka’s level of play wasn’t much better as he adjusts to the speed of the NBA game.

So Ibaka made a decision after Tuesday’s contest to go where he could get minutes: the G League. The Agua Caliente Clippers tipped off their season with a back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday against G League Ignite in Las Vegas, and that seemed like a better opportunity to get some run.

“[Ibaka] wanted to get down and find his rhythm,” Lue said Thursday. “He said right now the game is a little fast for him, so he wanted to go down to the G League and just play and get reps, get his conditioning up, get his timing.”

The 13-year veteran ended up starting the second game for the AC Clippers, playing 25 minutes. He hit his second shot, a baseline jumper, then proceeded to miss his next eight, but he rallied for 10 points in the fourth quarter as Agua Caliente defeated the Ignite, 101-93. For context, Ibaka has only ever scored double digits in a quarter once with the Clippers, back in February in Milwaukee.

It wasn’t really about the production, though — the very act of going to the G League signaled a lot for Ibaka. This isn’t baseball, where players regularly rehab injuries in the minor leagues. NBA players stick to the NBA. But Ibaka needed playing time, and he found a way to get it.

“I’ve seen it before, when guys are practicing and just trying to get familiar but haven’t played in a while,” Lue said about NBA players asking to go the G League, “but to come play a couple games and then go back down, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. But that just shows you the professional he is, and that just shows you about our team and how we want to sacrifice to get to where we’re trying to get to.... When you got a guy who’s a what, 13, 14-year vet, that’s a true professional. Just trying to do what he can to get back and help us out in any way he can, so that was good to see.

It’s unclear when Ibaka will return to the big club, as Agua Caliente has another back-to-back in Stockton on Sunday and Monday. But if this detour helps Ibaka get back sooner to producing for the Clippers, maybe it’s a pathway to consider for more players coming back from injury. One thing we’ve learned anything about these Clippers is that they’re willing to do whatever it takes.

More news for Friday:

  • The Agua Caliente Clippers have gotten off to a roaring start, winning each of their first two games.
  • Keon Johnson is particularly was cooking to the tune of 32 points on 16-of-20 shooting, eight rebounds, and seven assists in the first two contests until the rookie sprained his ankle. His timetable is unknown.