WASHINGTON — With 7½ minutes left to play Monday night at Boston, Scott Brooks subbed in Thabo Sefolosha for the same reason he always does whenever the shooting guard is reinserted in the final period.
“I knew we had to have that defender on the floor,” Brooks said.
The Thunder coach looked to his Swiss stopper to help slow two future Hall of Famers in Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. But what Brooks didn't anticipate is the boost Sefolosha would supply at the opposite end of the floor.
Sefolosha scored 12 of his season-high 19 points in the fourth quarter, surprising the sold out TD Garden crowd with his offensive eruption and late-game sharpshooting. With the Celtics keying on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Sefolosha stepped up and hit two 3-pointers in the final 2:01 to help secure the Thunder's 97-88 win.
In the process, Sefolosha showed his outside shot, which last season was a liability, has been sharpened to the point where it is now inching closer to becoming a weapon.
“Thabo's worked,” Brooks said. “One of the things he wanted to do was come back a better shooter, and he's shot the ball well. In fairness to him, we don't ask him to take a lot of shots.”
The important thing is Sefolosha has made the most of the opportunities he's been given. Entering Tuesday night's games, Sefolosha led the league in 3-point field goal percentage at 60 percent — ranking 0.26 percentage points ahead of Allen, the player that 85.7 percent of GMs who participated in a recent NBA.com survey cited as the league's best pure shooter. By the end of the night, Denver's Corey Brewer (62.5 percent) had passed both.
“I'm happy for him, because he never gets a lot of credit other than from his teammates and me,” said Brooks. “But he does so many things well. It's not easy to guard the best players in the world every night and not get a whole lot of rewards on the offensive end. But he never complains. Those are the guys that you win with.”
Sefolosha's role always will be centered on bringing a defensive disposition to the start of the game. But the Thunder struggled last season, especially in the playoffs, when Sefolosha's shooting struggles allowed defenses to play off him and pack the paint against Durant and Westbrook.
In the regular season, Sefolosha made a career-worst 27.5 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. In the postseason, Sefolosha was just 4-for-26, a ghastly 15.4 percent.