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.”
Could this Game 2 breakthrough bust him out of a season-long offensive slump? Who knows. But because of his defensive proficiency, Sefolosha will continue to get minutes. And any offensive production will be a needed boost.
“The defensive end is what got him locked in and he was able to come out and be aggressive on the offensive end,” Durant said. “Hopefully he continues to build on it, and we’ve got to continue to trust him.”
WESTBROOK’S POST-UP GAME
For years, one of the biggest knocks on the Thunder’s offense has been its obvious lack of a back-to-basket post threat.
And it remains a flaw.
But in this series, Brooks might have identified a temporary reprieve — the powerful Russell Westbrook against the undersized Clippers point guards.
Chris Paul got into early foul trouble on Wednesday and with Darren Collison forced to check Westbrook, the Thunder planted him in the post. Westbrook immediately overwhelmed Collison, bumping him into the lane for an easy basket.
And from there, the Thunder continued to exploit that matchup, with Westbrook getting three more easy mid-range jumpers over Collison on mid-post isolations.
He also showed an ability to identify double-teams from the post, hitting Serge Ibaka for an open jumper and Steven Adams for an easy layup when the Clipper bigs tried to trap him.
Reggie Jackson’s two games: 3-of-13 shooting, eight points, four turnovers.
He was a non-factor again on Wednesday, with Brooks limiting the ineffective guard to 12 minutes.
His Clippers series has started much like the Memphis one. The Thunder can only hope it ends the same way, too.
STAT OF THE DAY
Per Elias, Westbrook and Durant became the first teammates in NBA history – regular season or playoffs – to each have at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the same game.
STAT OF THE DAY II
Westbrook and Durant combined to score or assist on 94 of the Thunder’s 112 points on Wednesday night.