Scotty Brooks assigned Thabo Sefolosha to guard Tony Parker. It was neither a move of genius nor desperation. Just a move of common sense by Foreman Scotty.
If you're going to get beat, get beat with your best.
Thabo is the Thunder's best defender, and all hands on deck are needed against this San Antonio offense.
The Thunder did not get beat. Thabo played the game of his life, Parker fell gently back to Earth and the Thunder turned Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals into a Swiss Ease. The Thunder rolled the Spurs 102-82 Thursday night and now this is a series again.
Fourteen seconds into the game, Thabo kicked the ball. He spent the next 3 1/2 quarters kicking San Antonio.
Before Game 3 was three minutes old, the Switzerland native had intercepted two Tim Duncan passes, grabbed a Boris Diaw fumble and swiped the ball from Parker.
The four steals led to an 8-0 Thunder lead, and energized Thabo, who suddenly made like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and jacked up shots all night long.
Sefolosha put up 16 shots — the most he's ever launched wearing Oklahoma City colors; his season-high had been nine — and scored 19 points, matching his high as a Thunder. Thabo's shot total was smack in the middle of Durant (17) and Westbrook (15).
“He was phenomenal tonight,” said Kevin Durant, with 22 points the lone Boomer to outscore Thabo. “He was so active on the defensive end. He got a lot of deflections and got us some easy points in transition.”
Parker had carved up the Thunder in Game 2 in San Antonio, with 34 points and few misses. Over the previous five quarters, the Spurs had shot 60.2 percent from the field.
With the Thunder defense in tatters, Brooks turned to Thabo. Parker wasn't rendered useless, but the Spurs' pick-and-roll offense suddenly sputtered. The Thunder did more switching, though not so much off Parker, and the big men played much tougher on slowing the Spur options.
“I think my length bothered him,” Thabo said. “Again, I rely on my teammates a lot, and they did a great job of helping me.”
Clearly, the Spurs will counter for Game 4. This isn't the first time Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has had to pick up a team off the playoff canvas.
“I can ask Scotty not to play him,” Pop deadpanned. “I don't know how I can change what Sefolosha's going to do. He did a good job. Tony did a good job. But it's not about Tony. It's about our team.
We played much more poorly tonight we have, and I thought they played fantastic basketball in every way.”
Here's how good the Thunder defense was: at halftime, the Thunder led 54-41, and the Spurs had four points in the paint. They finished with 24, but most of them in garbage time, after OKC had exploded to a 27-point lead.
The Spurs had 92 paint points in the first two games.
“Defensively, that was as well as you can play against the best team in basketball,” Brooks said. “Everybody did it throughout every possession.
“As we all know, Thabo's one of the best defenders in the game. We've had him on point guards before, not a lot, but I thought he did a great job of really staying active, pursing, and our bigs did a good job tonight. They were into the pick-and-rolls.”
In Game 1, Brooks played Thabo almost 31 minutes but limited Serge Ibaka to 21 1/2 minutes and none in the fourth quarter. In Game 2, Thabo played just 15 minutes while Ibaka played almost 39.
Brooks finally figured out, if you're going to stop a great offense, get your best defenders on the court as much as possible. So Ibaka played 30 minutes and Thabo 36 1/2, and neither was even needed the last five minutes of what became a runaway.
And now the series has a whole new look. It's the Spurs' turn to adjust Saturday night, or this becomes a three-game series starting in San Antonio.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.