I try to just help when I see something like offensively, defensively, something that we can do a little differently. —Thabo Sefolosha
OKLAHOMA CITY — Entering Chesapeake Energy Arena may not give Utah Jazz players the same feeling that it does for Thabo Sefolosha.
For them, it’s an intense playoff series, but for Sefolosha, it conjures up old memories. Emotions. Feelings.
“It’s a tough time being back here in OKC and having to watch them play instead of being on the court, so I put that on the side and focus on them getting ready,” Sefolosha told the Deseret News.
For six seasons, the Swiss-born player laid his heart and soul on the line with the Thunder as a core member of the franchise’s rise to becoming an elite organization.
Sefolosha experienced everything from an NBA Finals appearance in 2012 to a pair of Western Conference finals runs in 2011 and 2014, while teaming with rising stars Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden in their younger years.
Currently in his 12th season and playing with the Utah Jazz, Sefolosha is sidelined after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair an MCL injury to his right knee in January, but he’s still engaged with his current team as they take on his former squad.
The Jazz dropped Game 1 to the Thunder on Sunday, 116-108, but Sefolosha isn’t afraid to offer his veteran advice, although he isn’t on the floor.
“I try to just help when I see something like offensively, defensively, something that we can do a little differently,” Sefolosha said. “I go to Jae (Crowder) and try to keep him aggressive and just try to give a few tips to us and Donovan (Mitchell), the young guys, and even Rudy (Gobert).
“Just whatever I see, I like to communicate, whether it’s with the coaches or with the players, so I try to stay involved as much as I can.”
Mitchell and rookie Royce O’Neale are certainly benefitting from that leadership in their first playoff experience.
Sefolosha has 92 career playoff games under his belt, with 69 starts, so he can relate to the nerves, atmosphere and everything else that the guys are experiencing, especially playing OKC.
That’s why he’s constantly communicating with guys in the huddle to keep them poised and offering insight on his former teammates like Westbrook.
“Just trying to figure out guys' tendencies, and he’s played in this league for a while,” Mitchell said. “Thabo has been a guy that I go to for advice on guys' tendencies and stuff like that. I’ve been doing that all year, so I was just doing it again.”
Although many of Sefolosha’s former Thunder teammates are long gone, including Durant and Harden, he still maintains close ties to Westbrook.
As a member of the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2010, Sefolosha is also offering defensive tips to O’Neale about how to relax and guard OKC Thunder star Paul George, who exploded for 36 points in Game 1.
“Even though Thabo is out, he does a great job of helping us out on the sideline, coming out, coaching us and asking him what he sees out there, how can we do better,” O’Neale said.
As much as anything, Sefolosha is there. His presence is felt, even when he’s sporting dress clothes on the sidelines instead of his Jazz uniform and sneakers.
“Thabo has done a great job for us,” O’Neale said.