It’s hard to remember now, but there was once a time when Thabo Sefolosha wasn’t just an efficient 3-point shooter. He was also a prolific one.
It was last season. He hit 108 3-pointers, third most on the Thunder and 51st most in the NBA, on 42 percent shooting, tied with Ray Allen for the 15th best mark in the league.
Considering what we’ve seen this season, those are staggering marks. Sefolosha’s 3-point shot rapidly declined in 2013-14. He made only 48 3-pointers on 31 percent shooting, far below his career average.
And it had been even worse since his recent return from injury. In the final six games of the regular season and first five games of the playoffs, Sefolosha went a combined 3-of-20 from three. And because of those struggles, in Game 6 against Memphis, coach Scott Brooks replaced him in the starting lineup with Caron Butler, saying the Thunder needed to “generate some offense”. Sefolosha didn’t play a minute in the final two games of that series.
But at the start of the Clippers series, he was back in the starting lineup for defensive purposes. And, with him, the shooting struggles returned. He missed four of his first five threes and, on the other end, was getting burned by J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes.
But suddenly, when things couldn’t have looked worse, Sefolosha reminded the Thunder and its fans what has made him so valuable the past five seasons.
In a wild spurt to start the second half, Sefolosha was phenomenal. He had two acrobatic and important steals to help key an 11-0 run and scored 12 points in a six-minute spurt. He had a driving dunk, a nice mid-range jumper and confidently drilled two threes.
“Thabo is one of those guys who plays extremely hard,” Kevin Durant said. “He finds a way to get his hands on the basketball and maybe get a layup or get a steal and a pass. That gets him going.”
His 12 points in the third quarter were more than he’s scored in a game since early February. And the two threes were particularly important.
“In this series, they’re playing off of him, and focusing on me and Russell,” Durant said. “As penetrators, we always try to look for our shooters and tell them to shoot with confidence. I think the best thing we can do is keep passing them the ball.”