At first, the 2014 NBA playoffs were hard to watch for Thunder fans.
Against the Clippers, the defensive effort was lazy and slow.
But things have certainly changed with the Spurs. Since losing two games in embarrassing fashion, the Thunder have bounced back and have tied the series 2-2. Why? Maybe because Russell Westbrook has been playing outstanding basketball. Maybe because Serge Ibaka is back. Personally, I think the main reason is Scott Brooks has evolved into a real coach.
Through the regular season, my opinion on Brooks was unpleasant. In fact, if I heard his name in public I felt anxiety. I thought his style of coaching was lacking creativity and his rotations were almost non-existent. It seemed like the two plays in his playbook were:
a) Get the ball to Durant
b) Westbrook isolation
I compared him to Mark Jackson because Jackson had one of the best offensive lineups in the league and the Warriors got nowhere. But my view of Scott Brooks has changed since the beginning of this series. I don't cringe at the sound of his name anymore. Brooks has done a great job this series, especially with his rotations.
Since Caron Butler was added to the roster, I noticed that Jeremy Lamb, a very skilled offensive player, lost lots of his floor time. This carried on to the playoffs. It seemed like he would not ever touch the floor. Brooks finally started to put him in the game, and he has been proving his worthiness. In the 5 man lineup of Jackson-Lamb-Durant-Collison-Adams, the Thunder's offense shoots 53.8 percent from the field and allow just 37.5 percent shooting on defense. The offense certainly improves with Lamb on the floor. His ball handling and isolation skills along with his shooting acts as another offensive option for Scott Brooks. Jeremy Lamb has played an important role in this series and the Thunder are lucky Brooks realized his value. Same goes for Steven Adams. Adams has been having the best stretch of his season and is a key to the Thunder's defense.
|Involvement of Jeremy Lamb||Involvement of Steven Adams|
|Game 2 vs. Grizzlies||DNP- Coach's Decision||3 minutes|
|Game 1 vs. Clippers||12 minutes||19 minutes|
|Game 3 vs. Spurs||17 minutes||28 minutes|
|Game 4 vs. Spurs||19 minutes||26 minutes|
I took two early playoff losses and compared them to OKC's two latest wins vs. the Spurs. The involvement in the team is evidently higher. Both were wins. Incorporating the young players into the lineup has worked out well for Scott Brooks.
Another smart move that Brooks has been executing is moving Reggie Jackson to the starting lineup after Thabo Sefolosha did not play. What Brooks was going after was a more offensive minded lineup, after the Thunder scored just 77 points in Game 2. Jackson and Westbrook make up a great duo of offensive guards. The result was a huge upgrade from the ineffective Thabo Sefolosha. In fact, in a lineup in which Westbrook and Jackson run the guards together, the offense and defense are highly efficient.
Ways to Improve
I think with his smart coaching strategies, Brooks may have saved his job. To tie up the Spurs after losing 2 in a row is no easy feat, yet Brooks dug himself out of the hole. While he is at his best coaching wise, he can still improve his rotations. I've noticed that Nick Collison's minutes have dropped considerably after starting in place for the injured Serge Ibaka. Collison has proved to be a great leader and defender while running a flawless pick and roll. It would be nice to have that edge on the Spurs and to have a player who puts it all on the court. Other than Collison's involvement, I am officially a fan of Coach Brooks. Let's see if he can keep it up.