I criticized Scott Brooks for once again starting Thabo Sefolosha in game two. He was benched for game six and seven against the Memphis Grizzlies and has a miserable game one. Thabo is a defensive specialist and has was assigned with the task of checking J.J. Redick. He failed in game one, as Redick had 12 points on five for eight shooting. Game two didn’t start off much better as Redick went six for eight in the first half, pouring in 12 points. Along with failing to keep Redick in line, Thabo missed all three of his shots.
It looked like Thabo was once again playing himself out of the starting lineup as he wasn’t living up to his defensive ability and was contributing nothing on the offensive end.
Then came the third quarter.
Thabo made the first shot he took, a 24-foot three. After a bad foul on Chris Paul, ruled a clear path foul and giving the Clippers four points, Thabo continued his hot shooting by making another three, a mid-range jumper, and finishing off a Russell Westbrook pass with a dunk.
With 3:30 left in the third and the Clippers down 12 with the ball, Thabo had the biggest sequence of the game. He stole the ball from Jamal Crawford and finished his breakaway with a dunk. Then, on the inbounds pass, Thabo once again stole the ball, giving the Thunder an extra possession. That possession ended with a Westbrook three. All of a sudden, a 12 point game turned into a 17 point game thanks to Thabo.
Thabo finished the game with 14 points, tied for his highest scoring total of the season. He also locked down Redick in the second half, holding him to just 4 points.
Oklahoma City fans probably can’t expect Thabo to score double figures every game, but if he continues to hold Redick in check, he’ll be doing what’s asked of him. Thabo is in the lineup for his defense, his offense is just a bonus. If his defense is lacking, chances are he’s not going to make up for it on the offensive end.
When he went down in early March with a strained calf, the Thunder defense started to fall apart. They were giving up 40 points to guys like Gerald Green and Jodie Meeks, both of whom would’ve been guarded by Thabo if he were healthy. I still maintain that he’s not 100% recovered from the injury and might be just a half step slower because of it, but anyone can see the difference he makes on the court when he’s locking down his man.
There’s a reason why Thabo has remained in the starting lineup despite not being the best shooting guard on the team. Part of it is that Scott Brooks is stubborn when he comes to his rotations, but it’s more because of his defensive intensity. Westbrook and Kevin Durant often slag off defensively, but thanks to Thabo’s ability to deny the ball, Serge Ibaka‘s shot blocking ability, and Kendrick Perkin’s ability to be Kendrick Perkins; their mistakes can go unnoticed.
Thabo is a valuable player for the Thunder. Whether he’s doing his job defensively, making the occasional three, not passing the ball on the fast break, or taking the blame from Durant and Westbrook for something that wasn’t his fault; Thabo is a valuable player that OKC needs if they hope to win a championship.