OKLAHOMA CITY — Thabo Sefolosha asked for the job. He didn’t know whether he could slow down, much less contain LeBron James, but the Oklahoma City guard wanted his shot at trying.
“Every now and then, I’ve done it during the season,” Sefolosha said. “Yesterday I came in and KD (Kevin Durant) was matched up with the four guy. So, I said, let me get a crack at LeBron, see how I match up against him.”
With the Thunder up by a single point heading into the fourth quarter, Sefolosha produced a stellar performance, holding James to just seven points as they defeated the Heat 105-94.
“Thabo played great defense,” Kendrick Perkins said. “I thought he was very active with his hands. Just coming out of the past two series he’s had to guard some tough guys. Kobe (Bryant), then he had to guard (Manu) Ginobli. Then we made the change and had to guard Tony Parker for the last three of four games. I think he’s ready and he played some great defense last night. We just have to make sure he doesn’t turn his TV on to hear everybody talking about (him).”
He will see more time on James and Dwyane Wade at 8 tonight in Game 2 of the NBA Finals at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Sefolosha has been the forgotten figure for the Thunder all year. With Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden getting most of the notoriety, followed by Serge Ibaka and Perkins, it’s easy to forget that he’s in the starting lineup.
But it’s days like Tuesday, when a premier scorer is on the floor, that even those not wearing a Thunder jersey come to realize Sefolosha’s importance to the team.
“Well there is only one Thabo,” Derek Fisher said. “For us, it’s very important to have him. Guys are asked to sacrifice a lot. And it’s often the guys like Thabo who are asked to sacrifice the most. Night in and night out he’s asked to guard the other team’s best player, not necessary given the opportunity to do more.”
Sefolosha is not called upon to be a scorer. But every once in a while, the Swiss-born shooting guard can find his stroke. Prime example was in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals when he poured in 19 points in a Thunder win.
But nights like that are few and far between. Sefolosha knows why he’s in Oklahoma City and what his teams needs of him.
“I just work hard at it,” Sefolosha said. “I take pride in the matchup. I try to stop my man. That is what the role is. That’s what the coach expects. That’s what my teammates expect from me so that’s what I try to provide for my team to be successful. I enjoy doing that.”
Oklahoma City has the luxury of having to not depend solely on Sefolosha to defend prime-time scorers. Durant, Harden and Westbrook can all take turns on opposing backcourts and small forwards.
Durant has even got to the point where he’s asking coach Scott Brooks to let him defend the team’s best player. He guarded James for the first three quarters in Game 1.
But Sefolosha is still considered the team’s primary defender.
“That is what a team is about. When guys come in when their numbers are called in a big moment and they come through,” veteran guard Royal Ivey said. “He’s been doing it the whole year. He’s been overshadowed. He’s a great defender. On good teams you need defenders.
“We look at Thabo as our stopper.”
Michael Kinney 366-3537 firstname.lastname@example.org