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Welcome Back, Thabo: Sefolosha's Outburst Propells Thunder

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

For most of this season, Thabo Sefolosha has occupied the Thunder's starting shooting guard slot.

This despite recording a 10.42 PER and a -0.1 Estimated Wins Added. Out of 337 qualified players, Sefolosha's PER ranks 284th and his EWA is tied for No. 282.

Sefolosha shot 42 percent and 44 percent from 3-point range, respectively, in the past two seasons, but that success took a nosedive this year. Sefolosha shot just 32 percent from deep, even though a majority of his looks were wide open.

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Sefolosha missed 20 games this season with an injury, and in that time coach Scott Brooks used multiple players to fill that role. Perry Jones got a shot, as did Caron Butler. Rookie Andre Roberson, a guy who eerily resembles a young Sefolosha, ended up earning a majority of those starts.

In the opening round against Memphis, Sefolosha shot just 33 percent from the floor and hit just 2 of 7 from deep before being benched for the final two games.

Some speculated that Sefolosha, who's contract is up at the end of this season, had played his final game in a Thunder uniform. But in Wednesday's crucial Game 2, Sefolosha proved to everyone that he's still got plenty left to offer.

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Sefolosha missed all three of his shot attempts in the first half, leaving many with a "here we go again" mindset, but he emerged from the halftime locker room a new man. Sefolosha poured in 12 points on 5-5 shooting, leading the way as Oklahoma City turned a close game into a blowout.

"The shots were open and I just kept shooting, Sefolosha said. "I gotta do that, stay confident. I missed I think three shots in the first (half) but I can't think about that too much in the second half. I kept shooting, kept believing in it and my teammates did a good job of finding me."

In one sequence late in the third, Sefolosha drained a 3-pointer, stole the ball from Jamal Crawford, streaked in for a dunk, then stole the ball from Crawford again.

"He was huge," Butler said of his teammate. "Making shots, deflections, doing a little bit of everything. I couldn't be more happy for anybody. I was really excited and happy and rooting for him. He kinda just sparked us and gave us that lift that we needed."

His defense was contagious, but his offense helped the Thunder do something it's struggled with for a while; making the opponent pay for sending double teams.

Russell Westbrook noticed the offensive balance and praised Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins for combining for 22 points.

"I thought those guys just did a great job of playing with confidence," Westbrook said. "Taking the shots when they were open. They did a great job of spacing out and myself and Kevin's job is to find a way to get ‘em open."

Brooks was also impressed and spoke with joy about Sefolosha's surprise contribution.

"Thabo's been a good shooter for us for a couple of years now and we have confidence in him," Brooks said. "I thought his defense in the third quarter really gave us the spark that we needed. He had his hands on the basketball and he contested shots, got a couple of steals and then he made some shots."

If Sefolosha and Perkins (8 points, 9 rebounds) can offer these contributions moving forward, the Thunder's offense will be that much harder to defend.

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