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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Thabo Sefolosha hadn't taken 16 shots in an NBA game since 2008, but his defense was key Thursday.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Thunder's Sefolosha enjoys a career moment in nick of time


Posted Jun 1 2012 9:20AM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The last time he snuck 16 shots into one game?

Thabo Sefolosha had to stop and think about.

"Summer time with the [Swiss] national team," he finally decided. "It's been a long time."

The last time he had such a big game?

No one had to pause.

Never.

Not in six seasons in the NBA. And certainly not considering that the Thunder were facing a possible 0-3 deficit in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals, with the most-anticipated season in team history on the line.

Sefolosha, after averaging 4.5 points in the first two games of this series in San Antonio, after 4.0 the entire playoffs, after 4.8 in the regular season as the starting shooting guard, had 19 on Thursday, more than any player on either team except Kevin Durant's 22. Sefolosha made four 3-pointers in 10 tries, the most all season in both categories. He hadn't even taken as many as 10 shots in a game -- from anywhere -- all season.

That wasn't what paved the way to the season-saving 102-82 Thunder win at Chesapeake Energy Arena, though. That wasn't what prompted Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to say afterward that, "I don't know how I can change what Sefolosha's going to do," and when addressing what adjustment he could make to counter Sefolosha considered out loud how, "I can ask [coach] Scotty [Brooks] not to play him."

Sefolosha's defensive lockdown on point guard Tony Parker disrupted a Spurs offense that 48 hours earlier seemed like it could not be disrupted. It was Sefolosha's defense that made the difference in the game.

In the past, the Thunder occasionally had used the 6-foot-7 Sefolosha on the 6-foot-2 Parker without the same effect. On Thursday, though, the impact could not have been more profound, considering the magnitude of the night, when going down 0-3 would have meant certain elimination one step before the Finals for the second year in a row.

Parker still had 16 points, tied with Stephen Jackson for most among the Spurs. But the All-Star point guard, who enjoyed an MVP-caliber season that has carried into the playoffs, could not find open spots with the same ease as before. He had fewer assists (four) than turnovers (five). He took only 12 shots.

"As we all know," Brooks said, "Thabo's one of the best defenders in the game. We've had him on point guards before. Not a lot, but I thought he did a great job of really staying active, pursuing, and I thought our bigs did a good job tonight. They were into the pick-and-rolls."

Sefolosha was so impactful defensively that even though he couldn't hit a shot in the first three quarters -- four makes in 12 tries -- Brooks couldn't take him out.

The people of Oklahoma City know all about Sefolosha's menacing play. And Sefolosha was certainly appreciated around the league, with one opposing coach giving him a vote for first-team All-Defense, though Sefolosha finished far back among guards in the balloting.

Thursday night introduced him to the rest of the basketball world. It's Thabo, as in TA-bo, and he is from Switzerland. Not from out of nowhere.

For all the moves Thunder general manager Sam Presti has made with magical returns -- Russell Westbrook with the fourth pick in the 2008 Draft, James Harden with the third in '09, sending Rashard Lewis and his max contract to the Magic in a 2007 sign-and-trade -- Sefolosha from the Bulls in '09 for a first-rounder later that year needs to be high on the list. The selection, originally belonging to the Nuggets, turned out to be No. 26. Sefolosha turned out to be an integral part of the team that has reached the conference finals two years in a row.

It was impossible to miss him in Game 3.

"I'm just happy we won," Sefolosha said. "I know my role: playing defense. And I think tonight, as a team, we did a great job at that. I'm just happy for the team that we won and we're going to keep pushing."

He didn't have to stop and think about that.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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