OKLAHOMA CITY -- With one simple defensive switch the Thunder made Game 4 relevant.
Coach Scott Brooks said the players just put out a better effort, and yeah, no holes in that story, but moving Super Swiss Thabo Sefolosha in front of Tony Parker wasn't just the answer for the Thunder.
It was a solution for the rest of the series while, at the same time, it created questions for San Antonio.
Instead of wondering when the Riverwalk parade starts, the Spurs now get to figure out what adjustments they need to make.
A loss by the Thunder in Game 3 and there's no way around it, the Spurs were winning the series, and they still might. But with an OKC win? A win like the Thunder put together, slowing down Parker, while at the same time dominating San Antonio on the way to an 102-82 win, creates issues for San Antonio.
It's a series now, not a Spurs coronation. Game 3 was all about what Sefolosha did -- which was an impressive task. But Game 4 and the rest of the series is now suddenly filled with options and opportunities because of the Game 3 change.
Let's look back before looking ahead. Sefolosha was charged with the duty of staying in front of Parker, who went off for 34 points in Game 2. Immediately, there was a difference. In the first 3 minutes Thursday, Sefolosha had three steals. He finished with six and also had six rebounds.
"We made the adjustment and it worked out good," Sefolosha said of the defensive switch.
Certainly the defense was the difference. After all, the Spurs were coming off of a Rock-N-Jock kind of effort, scoring from everywhere and with ease, when they went off for 120 in the Game 2 rout of the Thunder.
But really, what Sefolosha did was more evident on the offensive end, and not just from the record numbers he put up.
In 44 playoff games, Sefolosha had managed double digit scoring only once. He had 19 points Thursday. In seven NBA seasons, Sefolosha never averaged more than 28 minutes per game. He played almost 37 on Thursday. He came into Game 3 having averaged four attempts per game this postseason. Sefolosha had 16 shots Thursday, one more than Russell Westbrook and one less than Durant.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "It's not about Tony, it's about our team," and while Brooks would likely agree, it's not a stretch to say the rest of this series will be about what Sefolosha will do, not just against the Spurs, but for the Thunder.
Mainly what he did Thursday was allow Westbrook freedom. The results aren't necessarily evident in the box score as Westbrook had just 10 points on 5-of-15 shooting, but it is seen in the result. When Westbrook was on the floor, the Thunder outscored the Spurs by 29 points. Westbrook didn't have to concern himself with running after Parker, and in a game where he might have been pressed to have to play 48 minutes in an act of desperation, he played just 33. Westbrook also had nine assists, four steals and a pair of blocked shots. He looked fresher and he looked active.
Meanwhile, Durant played just 38 minutes, didn't feel the need to take more shots or push to take more shots because Sefolosha allowed it. His minutes were quality, meaning the Thunder role players like Nazr Mohammed and Nick Collison weren't forced to play crucial minutes. Mohammed didn't play at all Thursday, Collison played just 9 minutes and Daequan Cook played only 6 -- all in garbage time. Being deeper isn't necessarily better for the Thunder moving forward in the playoffs. The more Durant, Westbrook and James Harden can play, the better off they might be, and Sefolosha's minutes, shots and energy will factor into that.
"I can ask Scotty not to play him," Popovich said with a straight face after Game 3. "I don't know how I can change what Sefolosha's going to do. He did a good job."
Popovich and the Spurs might not be able to change much, but they're the ones who will have to make the moves going into Game 4.
Figure, Sefolosha will be back on Parker. Figure the Thunder will keep switching on the pick-and-rolls that seemed to sink them in the first two games as Parker and Manu Ginobili had few issues.
Figure the Thunder will be the ones with the confidence and the momentum.
"We can say Sefolosha did this or that," Spurs forward Stephen Jackson said. "He made shots, that's one thing, but they flat out beat us. They came out with more energy."
Now, we'll see if the Thunder come out with more Thabo the rest of the way.