OKLAHOMA CITY -- It’s an expected one-on-one matchup, but hardly talked about. Lost in the spotlight of the impending superstar showdown between Kevin Durant and LeBron James, is one of the NBA Finals’ more crucial and intriguing matchups: Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha versus Miami’s Dwyane Wade.
Wade most likely will draw defense from Sefolosha for most of the series. The 6-7 Swiss shooting guard has been Oklahoma City’s most consistent defender throughout the playoffs.
Sefolosha’s defensive presence, leadership and work ethic inspire his teammates.
“Thabo is a special guy,” Thunder center Nazr Mohammed said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him. Thabo is a guy you want to go to battle with. You always want him on your side going into battle because he is such an excellent defender, he’s a hard-nose guy, he’s tough, and I’m confident that he’s going to do the best to his ability.”
Sefolosha does not shy away from the prospects of facing a player of Wade’s caliber.
“It’s a good matchup for me,” Sefolosha said. “I like the challenge, and he’s a tremendous player. So, you have to be really focused, respect the guy and at the same time … you just have to play your game and be ready to go and step up to the plate.”
Wade, coming off a knee injury, had some low point totals early in the postseason but seemed to regain his step in the Eastern Conference finals against Boston. He heads into the Thunder series ready to start fresh.
“I mean, individually it’s been ups and downs, just like any other game,” he said. “I had it last year, as well, had a tough Chicago series, had ups and downs. That’s the nature of the beast.
“But for me and for my team, we found a way to win, and that’s what it’s all about. As I continue to say, I’m not going to be defined by how many points I put on the board every night and be defined by what I’m able to bring to my team overall as a complete player on the defensive end and the offensive end. It’s a fresh start, another start. All those series are over with, now we enter a new one, and we’ll see the outcome of this one.”
Wade turned in a successful series against the Celtics, as Sefolosha, having defended Tony Parker very well for much of Thunder’s series against San Antonio, has had success himself.
“[My confidence] is very good,” Sefolosha said. “But I try not to get too high or too down on myself anytime of the season and anytime in the playoffs. I know what I’m capable of, and I’m always confident. We’ve got a great team, we’ve got great talent in the team. So, just because of that, I think I am pretty confident in my team.”
Sefolosha will not be alone in his defensive duties versus Wade and the Heat. The Thunder plans on using several different looks and individual matchups against both Wade and James throughout the series, but a heavy dose of Thabo is expected.
Mohammed said it best.
“He’s going to make those guys work for the baskets that they try to get, and they’re going to have to guard him. Because as teams have learned, if you leave him open, he can knock the three-ball down and he can get to the rim.
“I’d go to war with Thabo any day of the week.”