Serge Ibaka’s first season with the LA Clippers is over after he underwent back surgery Thursday, the team announced.
Ibaka missed 30 straight games due to his back injury before returning for the final two games of the regular season. He played in the Clippers’ first two playoff games of the first round against the Dallas Mavericks but had missed the past seven playoff games.
“There is nothing I would love more than being on the court helping my brothers and trying to win a championship for #ClipperNation,” Ibaka posted on Instagram. “It’s been a very tough season, I worked very hard to be back in time for the Playoffs but sometimes injuries get in the way and health has to be a priority. I appreciate all the love and support from everyone and now I have my mindset on supporting my team and getting healthy and ready for next season.”
Ibaka, 31, was the Clippers’ biggest offseason addition. After 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell and JaMychal Green departed in free agency, the Clippers signed Ibaka with the belief that he would be a critical piece to their championship puzzle.
Kawhi Leonard helped recruit his former Toronto Raptors teammate as the Clippers envisioned Ibaka not only bringing needed championship experience and leadership but also providing the team with a big man who could stretch the floor with perimeter shooting and protect the rim with shot-blocking.
Ibaka started his first 39 games until he was sidelined with his back injury on March 15. The center averaged 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 23.3 minutes — his lowest average playing time in a regular season since his first year in Oklahoma City in 2009-10.
Ivica Zubac became the starting center while Ibaka was out during the regular season. The Clippers — who trail the Utah Jazz 2-0 in their second-round series, with Game 3 on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC) — have been starting either Zubac or Nic Batum at center in the playoffs, depending on matchups.