I don't normally make such brash, Skip Bayless-like statements. But you know that when I do, I'm able to back it up.
Scott Brooks employed some downright deplorable coaching strategy last night. I'm literally appalled at how bad things got. It's as if his backup plan without Westbrook was simply to let Kevin Durant become the first player-coach since the 1970s. He just let a 6'10" dude run the offense for 47 minutes, only benching him when the moment absolutely required it.
But, I'll slow this thing down before I start it. Instead of giving you the uncontrolled rant that's currently rolling in my mind, I'll just go through and list, point by point, some of the things Scott Brooks did wrong tonight.
1. He let Kevin Durant play 47 minutes.
That was the silliest thing I've ever seen him do. This is the first round of the playoffs, not Game 7 of the NBA Finals. I can understand letting KD roll with his success in the first half, but when he started faltering in the third, Scott Brooks has to pull him out. I know that he's a superstar, and has the ability to play through adversity. But, heck, there's a strong case against him playing an entire half, let alone an entire game. (I wrote an article about it here.)
2. He let Kevin Durant play POINT GUARD for 47 minutes.
This wasn't some sort of Kobe or LeBron-like system where the superstar brings the ball up half the time and in clutch situations. This was Kevin Durant pretending that he was Magic Johnson. He had to be the team's main offensive scorer, their main offensive distributor, and play in a fast-paced game for nearly 48 straight minutes.
3. He never established a secondary ball handler.
The point guard position was a total disaster in terms of distribution. Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson combined for TWO assists. Why? Well, here's what they did. If they were lucky enough to bring the ball up the floor, they would shortly after hand the ball to KD and retreat to the corner. If, for some reason, KD didn't motion for the ball, they tried to set up a simple pick and roll. That usually failed, so they'd just pass the ball to KD and retreat to the corner, having wasted valuable seconds on the shot clock.
Honestly, at times, it looked like Nick Collison was the point guard. I've never seen him take so many shots, nor have I seen him stranded alone on the perimeter so often. And I'm totally serious. Sure, it looks like Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha were part of it, but they weren't. They just moved the ball around like they usually do. This game was built around KD, and Collison handled the ball about 10 times more than he normally does.
4. He let ball movement crunch to a halt.
One thing you have to understand about the Thunder is that they have terrific scorers. All of whom can step up and fill roles very well. But in order for them to flourish, they have to be fed the ball. Outside of Durant, Westbrook, and possibly Jackson, nobody on this team can create their own shot. In tonight's game, I saw several guys get stuck on islands by themselves, forcing them into terrible off the ball jumpers. When you see Derek Fisher cross somebody over and try to nail one from 3 feet behind the arc, something's wrong.
5. He forgot about dominating the paint.
This, perhaps, is the most glaring weakness of all. In Game 1, the Thunder destroyed the Rockets by going big and dominating the boards. Same goes for the regular season wins. In Game 2, the Rockets dominated the Thunder on the boards and got close. Tonight, the Thunder dominated the boards in the first half and dominated the score. In the second half, the Thunder gave up on going big midway through the third and let the Rockets play them square for the rest of the game. Guess what? A huge comeback ensued.
Some things, I understand, were totally out of Scott Brooks' control. There's no way he can account for Kevin Martin's third straight ice cold performance. He can't have accounted for how poorly the Thunder's bigs were protecting the paint in the early third. He couldn't influence Thabo's atrocious shooting percentages from the corner.
Still, all of these things could have been overcome. Heck, if Scott Brooks would have just had Reggie Jackson fill Westbrook's role, played regular rotations, and let the bench languish, this game would have been over early in the fourth. We're talking simple, basic adjustments.
The Bottom Line
The Thunder played extremely inspired ball tonight, and you have to commend them for that. Despite finishing the game atrociously, Kevin Durant played his heart out. But all the effort and talent in the world means nothing unless you have a cohesive strategy. The Thunder are an excellent team, and, quite frankly, they're better than this. They can't fold themselves into a one-trick pony, riding the horse to its' eventual death.
I've written endless conjecture about how the Thunder can use different strategies to their advantage. But all of those strategies come down to just one word. Trust. Scott Brooks has to trust in Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher, and let them run their own plays. He has to dish out offensive responsibility to other players, who are perfectly capable of putting the ball in the basket. Most of all, he has to trust in himself, knowing that he's played Kevin Durant in the right role over his five-year coaching career. Why change it now?
What do you think of Scott Brooks' performance last night? Vote in the poll, post a comment!