Heading into Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Thunder coach Scott Brooks playfully said he would not play three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant all 48 minutes each game, but rather only 47.
Given how the series opener unfolded, perhaps Brooks should consider playing defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha a bigger bulk of the minutes.
The Thunder post a 105-94 victory before a crazed blue-clad sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, outscoring the Miami Heat 58-40 in the second half.
Durant, who wound up playing 45:48, no doubt played a significant role, scoring 17 of his game-high 36 points in the final quarter. Point guard Russell Westbrook fell just shy of a triple-double with 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
In fact, Durant and Westbrook double-handedly outscored the Heat 41-40 after intermission.
But it was Sefolosha who added even more value to OKC's flurry of second-half points with his suffocating, physical defense against LeBron James.
Sefolosha played 19:46 of his 28:30 in the second half, including the entire fourth quarter, during which he held James to seven points and 2-for-6 shooting from the field.
In the first half, Sefolosha allowed Dwyane Wade just two points while defending the eight-time All-Star.
With Miami's propensity to roam in open spaces and rely on their significant one-on-one abilities, Sefolosha's quick feet and candor-like frame figure to be invaluable throughout the Finals.
Sefolosha's stellar second half wasn't completely one-sided. He also scored all nine of his points in the second half.
Sefolosha's timing was impeccable because all this transpired on the same night the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year couldn't manage six points. James Harden finished with five points and shot 2 for 6 from the field.
“We love what Thabo does,” Brooks said. “He's a tough-minded defender. He understands that he has to be able to guard every possession like it's his last, and he does that. … Thabo is a very important part of how we defend as a team. His individual pride is at a high level.”
Thunder reserve guard Royal Ivey frequently is hounded by Sefolosha in practice. Ivey personally has experienced what he observed Wade and James go through in Game 1.
“He was great,” Ivey said of Sefolosha's performance. “He gets his hands on a lot of balls. He's great at deflections. He's got long arms and he's always moving them constantly. He's anticipating what the offensive player is doing.”
Sefolosha finished with two steals, one blocked shot and a handful of deflections.
Ivey then tried to explain how Sefolosha deflects the ball to himself for a steal.
“He mirrors the ball a lot,” Ivey said. “When you get lazy, the ball smacks his hand and deflects it where he can go and get it. He's probably one of the best in the league to do that.
“Thabo is 6-foot-7, he's quick and he has long arms, so he can guard anywhere from a 1 (point guard) probably to a 4 (power forward).”
That means Sefolosha is available to defend anyone from Mario Chalmers to LeBron James, and Brooks just might ask Sefolosha to do precisely that.
Derek Fisher's five world championship rings certainly came in handy in Game 1.
The 37-year-old Thunder reserve guard finished with six points, shot 3 for 5 from the field, grabbed three rebounds and also one assist.
Modest totals, yes, but it was Fisher who calmed the nerves of some fidgety teammates in the early going, scoring all of his points before intermission.
“I didn't necessarily sense (nerves), but it made sense,” Fisher said. “As you watched the first half unfold — I wasn't in each guy's head or in their mind — but you could expect and anticipate that guys would just feel overwhelmed by the opportunity.
“Guys work their entire life to get an opportunity to play in the Finals and play for a championship, so nerves and anxiety are to be expected, but as I stated before, these guys are fearless and just love competing, and tonight they showed that we're capable of just playing through any set of circumstances and figuring out a way to win.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Fisher also held OKC steady by playing 9:45 in the fourth quarter, spending much of his time defending 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward Udonis Haslem.
Fisher spoke of the importance for role players to somehow change the game.
“Sometimes, you're making shots,” Fisher said. “Other times, you're doing a lot of the little things, like what Nick Collison did tonight in terms of offensive rebounds and taking charges, hustling to loose balls. Those are the things that win games for us, so that's what I try to focus on, and I think all of our guys have done a great job being game ready when they step out on the court and we're going to need that in order to continue to accomplish our goals.”