SAN ANTONIO — Often in a high-level NBA playoff series, with stars equalizing each other all over the floor, the deciding factor can come in those fringe matchups.
The showdown between sixth men. The battle of the backup bigs. The cumulative effect of the role players.
Through two games and two brutal double-digit Thunder losses – the latest a 112-77 dismantling by the Spurs on Wednesday night – OKC has lost nearly every matchup on the floor.
But nowhere has it been more apparent than the starting shooting guard position.
Much like he did in the NBA Finals last season, Danny Green is thriving on the big stage. Viewed as a secondary piece – the fifth-best player on this loaded Spurs team – Green has played a starring role through two games against the Thunder.
He has 37 points on 13-of-19 shooting. He’s made 11 of his 15 threes. On Wednesday night, Green exploded for 21 points – six more than any player on the Thunder – going 7-of-10 from deep on a night OKC went 2-of-20.
Meanwhile, Green’s counterpart has been invisible. Through two games, Thabo Sefolosha is scoreless on 0-of-9 shooting.
In the final year of his contract with the Thunder, Sefolosha has struggled like never before. And as the playoff pressure has amped up, his scuffle has only worsened.
“I like the shots I’m getting,” Sefolosha said postgame, following an 0-of-5 night. “It’s just about finding a rhythm.”
Long known for his defense, Sefolosha was at least a capable offensive threat last season. He made 108 threes on 42 percent shooting. But this season, those numbers have fallen off a cliff.
He shot 31 percent from three in the regular season and has been worse in the playoffs, making only 6-of-22 (27 percent). And on the defensive end, he’s been uncharacteristically exposed.
Sefolosha’s two primary targets, the red-hot Green and the slippery Tony Parker, were the Spurs two leading scorers on Wednesday. He lost Green on a few long-range daggers and Parker on a few drives.
“I don’t quite know,” Sefolosha said, talking about Green’s barrage of threes. “You know, I think we made an emphasis on not giving up too many points inside. And that’s how he got a lot of them on rotation, just being a little too slow.”
Because of his struggles, Sefolosha has been limited to only 26 minutes in two games. On Wednesday, he played the first seven minutes of the first half before getting pulled until the break. Then, after three ineffective minutes to start the second half, he was pulled for good.
And now the Thunder is desperate, backs against the wall against a potent Spurs team. The last time that was the case for Brooks – down 3-2 to the Grizzlies in Memphis – he pulled Sefolosha from the starting lineup, saying he needed more offense.
This time, will Brooks pull the trigger again? We’ll know Sunday. But a 37-0 point disparity at the starting shooting guard spot likely calls for some examination.