By now, Thabo Sefolosha has every right to want to strangle Russell Westbrook.
Or, at the very least, put his point guard in a headlock.
And who knows? Maybe he does.
Maybe he has.
But after the latest quarrel between the two, a seemingly quarterly occurrence, there wasn’t the least bit of animosity between the Thunder’s starting backcourt. Not publicly evident, anyway.
For that, Sefolosha deserves some sort of acknowledgment. Unfortunately, he’s not getting it.
All Sefolosha has done for this team is sacrifice. His scoring, his minutes, his body, his ego. When the Thunder’s All-Star point guard can’t cover his man, it’s Sefolosha who picks up the slack for Westbrook. In return, Westbrook has only found new ways to publicly humiliate Sefolosha. Last season, it was Westbrook famously shouting at Sefolosha to “shoot the (expletive) ball.” On Thursday night, before a nationally televised audience, it was another over-the-top, on-court outburst in which Westbrook lashed out at Sefolosha for what the point guard later labeled “a little miscommunication.”
Those are just the most notable, most glaring examples. Similar colorful conversations between the two have taken place on the court throughout the early part of the season. Any other player without the same calm and cool demeanor as Sefolosha likely would be sick of it. But not once has Sefolosha thrown Westbrook under the bus. Just look at the way Sefolosha handled questions from reporters following Thursday’s game.
Reporter: What happened with the five-second backdown call with Russ? It looked like you guys had a miscommunication there.
Sefolosha: Nothing really happened. I think we played a good game overall, and that’s what matters, you know? We won the game. It was a good game for us tonight. That’s what matters.
Reporter: What was your reaction when Russell left the court?
Sefolosha: I didn’t really see any of that. But the five guys that are on the court, that’s what’s truly important, always thinking about the next play and the right thing to do.
Reporter: Did you guys smooth it over, whatever happened there? Whatever dispute there was?
Sefolosha: I mean, I didn’t see anything. If you say anything, you tell me. But we’re happy that we won the game. That’s the key point tonight.
Reporter: Russell’s an interesting guy. He can sort of lose his head, lost his cool, go off the court and then come back to play and start the fourth quarter and act like nothing’s going on. Is that something you can sort of count on?
Sefolosha: We can count on him every night. He’s a big, big part of what we’re doing with the team. And regardless of anything, he’s a big, big part of the team. And he’s an extremely talented player.
It’s all-too easy to lose sight of Sefolosha’s significance on this team. He doesn’t score in bunches, or throw down monster dunks, or swat shots into the seats, or commemorate 3-pointers with attention-grabbing celebrations. But in the middle of a career year, Sefolosha again Thursday demonstrated how vital he is to the Thunder’s survival.
Sefolosha has been nothing short of the ultimate teammate in Oklahoma City, and it’s time he gets the long-overdue recognition he deserves.