The last Jazz player to walk out of the locker room was Thabo Sefolosha after a long soak in the ice tub.
He’s 33 now, the same age LeBron James turned on Saturday. He gets as much post-game treatment as anyone on the team. And you could say in the Jazz’s 104-101 win over the Cavaliers, Sefolosha more than earned it.
“How long has it been since we finished?” he said. “I was in [the tub] the whole time.”
It may take longer than ever to recover, but the veteran showed he can still play at the top of his game Saturday in Utah’s victory. Staying in front of James, he helped goad the King into six turnovers, then drove into traffic for two rebounds in the final 50 seconds that helped clinch the game. James did not have a point or assist in the first 17 minutes of the second half.
Sefolosha ceded the headlining role to rookie Donovan Mitchell, who dazzled again in victory. But with 10 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and vintage defense on the best player in the world, Sefolosha was hard to ignore.
“He battled [James] all night,” Rodney Hood said. “He made it hard for him to catch. He kept him out on the perimeter. Some of the buckets he did score, he did just because he’s so strong. But [Thabo] did a great job. He’s the anchor to our defense tonight, so we didn’t have to get into too many rotations in that second half.”
Sefolosha’s performance added credibility to the approach coach Quin Snyder is taking with a logjam at the power forward spot: Competing with Joe Johnson and Jonas Jerebko for minutes, Snyder would rather play Sefolosha selectively on certain matchups and keep him out other nights. That’s why Sefolosha has had two healthy nights where he hasn’t played.
And while Sefolosha has acknowledged he’d prefer to play every night, he respects how Snyder has kept an open line of communication.
“I think he’s been doing a great job since the beginning of just communicating with all 15 of us,” he said. “Really the message is clear with what he expects from you, what he wants from you on the court, and he gives you the freedom to do it.”
But anyone who watches games where Sefolosha doesn’t play knows that doesn’t mean he’s not involved. Besides having a robust pregame routine where he warms up and does pregame conditioning, he also talks to players during timeouts and on the bench, discussing strategy and adjustments. He goes from being chess piece to chess player.
Sefolosha remains a good piece, as he showed against the Cavs. And even though he doesn’t play every night, how he carries himself has earned the respect of the Jazz locker room.
“He’s a true pro,” Hood said. “He’s going to have nights like this where he comes in, and he is a big reason why we won tonight.”