Okay, here's the deal. I've watched last night's travesty. Twice. And although most seem to blame the loss on a post-Westbrook adjustment period, I really think that it's time for that discussion to end. If the Thunder had played the same strategy with Russell Westbrook last night, there's no way they could have won.
Why? Well, Reggie Jackson basically equaled Russell Westbrook's offensive production. Sure, he didn't get to the line as much and he was more efficient from the floor, but the stats are there. Secondly, the Thunder were able to get nearly the same offensive production as they usually do, while also getting nearly the same amount of assists. Westbrook, for all intents and purposes, was there.
The problem last night was with the defense. Besides the first few minutes, they decided to go small for the majority of the game. But, they utilized almost zero defensive pressure, going man-to-man the entire time.
Let me reiterate. The Thunder went small, played man-to-man, and decided not to pressure.
It goes further. Despite all that, they still constantly switched on screens, inviting defensive mismatches.
Yes. The Thunder went small, played man-to-man, didn't pressure, and switched on screens.
This strategy is basically contrary to what the Thunder have done for their entire existance, if you don't count the 13 games of P.J. Carlesimo. It allowed the Rockets to get away with only 12 turnovers (FOUR below their season average), equal the Thunder on the boards, exploit mismatches, and basically run away with a game after a totally average shooting night.
Look, I understand that Coach Brooks wanted to make a game-to-game adjustment. He did, but it was one of the worst adjustments I could have possibly imagined. He told the Thunder to stop pressuring an iso-heavy team. Let me put it this way. Here's James Harden's shooting numbers for the series.
|Game 1||Game 2||Game 3||Game 4||Game 5|
Notice anything different about Game 5? James Harden had shot below 40% on every single night in this series.. He was the Rockets single offensive weakness. He works almost exclusively in isolation situations, and struggles when you force him to score against a double-team. The same is true for Jeremy Lin, who was almost a total non-factor in the three games he played, despite being the team's #3 scorer. Thus, by not pressuring on defense, the Thunder basically handed back a pair of aces while playing five-card draw. Had Jeremy Lin played, the Thunder would have been destroyed defensively, and this wouldn't have even been a contest.
But here's the huge tragedy that makes the situation ten times worse than it really is. The Thunder were actually doing a great job of moving the ball offensively. What I saw out there today finally gave me hope that the offense had finally found it's identity without Russell Westbrook. The Thunder only had 8 turnovers, a series low, and managed to find open shooters most of the time. The only real missing link was the lack of transition points and the catastrophe known as Kevin Martin.
Anyway, let's get into the nitty gritty. Here's 5 more coaching decisions that helped send the Thunder to the toilet last night. Note that these are coaching decisions, not the faults of players. So stuff like bad shooting isn't included.
1. Playing Kendrick Perkins on his own. I understand that he was out there mainly to stop Omer Asik. But Scott Brooks has to understand that Omer Asik is NOT a classical big man. Yes, he can't shoot, but he doesn't back his opponent into the post and score. He runs pick and rolls. So really, Ibaka or Collison could have done just as effective a job in guarding him.
Not only that, but Kendrick Perkins wasn't playing how a lone big is supposed to play. He was THE ONLY Thunder player out there pressuring the ball, because he always plays like that. It doesn't work a whole lot, but the sting is less felt because Ibaka is there in the post to back him up. When playing as the only big, he's basically sacrificing the Thunder's only line of defense near the basket. In other words, his weaknesses were amplified, and it could have been avoided.
2. Forgetting about Nick Collison. 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 6 minutes. That's all I have to say.
3. Horribly Balancing the Offense. The only Thunder player to hit a shot outside of the paint during the first half was Reggie Jackson. I'm totally serious. Every other player, including Kevin Durant, made all of his points in the paint. In the second half, the Thunder's strategy totally changed. Nearly half of their shots were taken from beyond the arc, and they didn't attack the paint nearly as much. The Thunder's shooting efficiency increased, but they were taking a good number of bad attempts. Whatever happened to balance?
4. Getting No Good Shots for Ibaka. Serge Ibaka was an efficient 7 of 14, but he didn't hit a single jump shot and could have been so much more. He didn't get an open shot attempt all night. The Thunder kept running horrible isolation post plays for him, which went nowhere as he attempted a wild hook or bad turnaround jumper. He did get two catch and shoot opportunities, one of which was a narrowly missed three. But both of them were contested.
I know, the Rockets might have just been playing good defense. But Kendrick Perkins was able to get two wide-open 12 foot jumpers when he was on the floor. Moreover, Omer Asik is 7 feet tall and not nearly as mobile as Ibaka. If Ibaka can't get an open shot against him, then I'm a monkey's uncle.
5. Still playing Kevin Durant for too long. 44 minutes is too long for an NBA player to play and be effective. With Durant acting as the primary scorer, part-time PG, and primary defender against the elusive Chandler Parsons, it only makes sense that he'd run out of gas at the end of the game. Sure, you need him in there, but when he's shooting 0-5 in the fourth quarter, DeAndre Liggins or
Corey Brewer Ronnie Brewer would be just as good.
Anyway, that's all I've got for now. Some of the blame has to go towards the Thunder themselves, because they were shooting so poorly from the field despite managing to get open shots. But I have to place most of the blame on Scott Brooks. I understand making adjustments without Westbrook, but he basically abandoned the team's strategy because of the loss of one player, and put them in a very vulnerable position. There's a lot of work to do if he wants to win Game 6, but he has the talent and tools to do so, easily. And if the Thunder lose this series after going up 3-0, there's no question in my mind that he should be fired. I like him as a person and it pains me to say it, but that's just the business of basketball.
What do you think of Coach Brooks' performance last night? Let us know in the comments!