There are a thousand things to write about concerning the Thunder’s wild 107-101 victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. Here’s what strikes me: Thabo Sefolosha.
Thabo returned to the lineup on Tuesday night in Sacramento, and presto, the Thunder played some good defense. Which has not been the norm since Sefolosha was sidelined in February with a calf strain.
But the Kings are the Kings and weren’t even the Kings, since Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay both were sidelined. So OKC’s 107-92 victory really was no test.
But the Clippers are different. An offensive juggernaut, playing for a chance to unseat the Thunder as the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed.
Thabo played 231/2 minutes. In those 231/2 minutes, the Clippers scored 45 points. In the other 241/2 minutes, the Clips scored 56 points.
For two months, the Thunder has played spotty defense, often against mediocre competition. But with the post-season nearing, Scotty Brooks has his full team back, and the Thunder suddenly looks more playoff-ready.
Thabo is no small part of that.
Sefolosha played the first 8:21 of the game, and the Thunder took a 23-19 lead.
Sefolosha played the first 9:49 of the third quarter, during which OKC outscored the Clippers 22-16.
Then with the wheels coming off, the Clippers having scored 12 unanswered points in 90 seconds and a 15-point Thunder lead having dipped to three, Thabo returned and brought some defensive stability. OKC outscored the Clippers 13-10 down the stretch.
So in those 231/2 minutes, the Thunder outscored the Clippers 58-45. In the other 241/2 minutes, the Clippers outscored the Thunder 56-49.
With Thabo on the court, the Clippers made 14 of 36 shots, 38.9 percent. With Thabo on the bench, the Clippers made 22 of 50 shots, 44 percent.
With Thabo on the court, the Clippers committed 10 turnovers. With Thabo on the bench, the Clippers committed six turnovers.
Sefolosha’s defense isn’t spectacular. It doesn’t show up in the same way that, for instance, a Serge Ibaka rejection does.
But Sefolosha stays in front of his man. Closes out on shooters. Applies ball pressure. Gets back in transition.
The Thunder missed Thabo desperately these last two months.
Kendrick Perkins, too, and he came in handy against the Clippers, though DeAndre Jordan got loose for a couple of dunks at Perk’s expense.
The Thunder needed both of its defensive specialists to get back to its previous defensive standard.
But sometimes we forget what Sefolosha brings.
He switched off to at times cover Chris Paul, the Clippers’ maestro of a point guard.
“It’s good to have everybody healthy,” said Scotty Brooks. “You want all your guys healthy. We haven’t had a lot of health.
“We have guys that have good roles. We have guys that are stars in their roles, like Thabo.”
Only one thing separates the Thunder and the Clippers. The Thunder has shown that it can play big-time defense. The Clippers have not. Sefolosha is a big part of that. The Clippers don’t have a Thabo.
Russell Westbrook was fantastic against the Clippers. Kevin Durant was clutch down the stretch. Ibaka recovered from early foul trouble to be a force. Reggie Jackson was cool. Steven Adams showed a lot of promise.
But don’t leave out Thabo.
The Thunder wasn’t the same without him. Now that Sefolosha is back, the Thunder has changed again, for the better. This team looks a lot more playoff-ready now that Thabo is back.