As a demoralized Thunder team returned from San Antonio down 2-0, Scott Brooks knew adjustments were necessary. To flip the 2012 Western Conference Finals in OKC’s favor, Brooks needed some kind of spark.
The answer: Placing an active and disruptive Thabo Sefolosha on the previously scorching Tony Parker.
Sefolosha delivered, kickstarting one of the best stretches of his career with arguably his greatest game.
In 37 minutes of that series-changing Game 3, Sefolosha was all over the floor, compiling playoff highs of 19 points, six rebounds and six steals. He blanketed Parker, holding the star point guard to 16 unimpactful points after he had dropped 52 big ones in the first two games.
Specialosha was the headline splashed across the next day’s Oklahoman because Thabo was the unquestioned star.
“He was phenomenal,” a grateful Durant said postgame.
Two years later, the Thunder finds itself in an identical scenario. Down 2-0, rattled and reeling, OKC is searching for any kind of answer to reverse another Spurs conference finals stranglehold.
The solution, though, will likely need to come elsewhere. The times and teams have changed. San Antonio is better, James Harden is gone and Serge Ibaka, at least for now, is out with an injury. But also, of an underrated amount of significance, this Thabo Sefolosha is not that Thabo Sefolosha. Hasn’t been all season.
In a contract year, Sefolosha’s shooting percentages have fallen off a cliff. His offensive game, never great but certainly passable, has transformed into a Kendrick Perkins 2013 playoffs level of liability. In the postseason, he’s shooting 41 percent overall and 26 percent from three — with most of those looks wide open. Against the Spurs, he is scoreless in two games, missing all nine of his shots.
San Antonio’s gameplan has been to help off Sefolosha, sprint at him on the catch and force him to make off-the-dribble shots.
“They know what they like to give up and what they don't want to give up,” Sefolosha said. “They try to play to your strengths and weaknesses.”
But Sefolosha’s offense hasn’t been the only problem. Typically reliable on defense, Sefolosha was one of the Thunder’s many turnstiles in the first two games.
Guarding both Tony Parker and Danny Green, Sefolosha hasn’t been able to contain either. Parker got to the basket at will and Green sprung open for far too many uncontested looks, free to can 11 of his 15 3-pointers in the first two games. In 47 attempts, Sefolsoha has only hit 11 threes since the All-Star Break.
“You see some shots fall in (practice) and you feel confident again about it,” Sefolosha said of his slump. “You can't think about it too much.”
Out of desperation in the first round, down 3-2 to Memphis, Brooks pulled the plug on Sefolosha, benching him in favor of Caron Butler for the final two games. After Saturday’s practice, once again in desperation mode, Brooks sounded like a coach preparing to alter his starting lineup.
So this time, the struggling Sefolosha could be at the other end of an in-series adjustment against the Spurs. And it’s not far-fetched to think that the soon-to-be free agent may have already played his final minutes for the Thunder.
But if Brooks goes back to the well, if he starts Sefolosha again on Sunday and if the Thunder has any chance of turning this thing around, they’ll need Thabo to figure things out.
Maybe not the Sefolosha from Game 3 of the 2012 Conference Finals. But anything remotely resembling his old form would be a welcome sight.