Last night was probably one of the craziest games in recent memory. But hidden amongst the drama of Westbrook's injury was a tactically sound performance from our coach, Scott Brooks. Coaching two of the top 10 players in the world hasn't done Brooks a lot of favors in the eyes of the public, and it's rare that he gets recognized for his own accomplishments. But given his limited resources last night, Brooks did a really excellent job of managing what he had and putting his team in a position to win.
Here's his five greatest victories from last night....
1. Putting Perry Jones in one of KD's favorite plays
A quick YouTube search proves that Kevin Durant has executed at least a similar play. But if you've watched the Thunder for any amount of time, you'll know that they've run this play for Durant for years. KD is extremely efficient on the block, and Perry Jones' size relative to his defender makes him ideal for the situation.
Why does this play work for both Jones and Durant? The play doesn't involve anybody putting the ball on the floor past mid-court until Durant or Jones get the ball in the post. The play also works because the additional screen set by the two bigs once Jones gets the ball is enough to keep help defense away from the rim momentarily.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Thunder had just endured two fruitless offensive possessions after a miracle of a 8-2 run. On the other end, J.J. Redick had just nailed a three, and the Clippers had regained possession. At 7 points up with three minutes to go, Los Angeles was poised to walk away with this game.
But then, the momentum killer: Scott Brooks orders his troops to start fouling DeAndre Jordan. It's worth noting that this game almost lasted three hours, and probably would have lasted longer than that had the Hack-a-Jordan been allowed to continue. But Doc Rivers wasn't about to let it start. The Thunder weren't in the bonus yet, so Rivers simply subbed in Hawes.
Hawes had been out for a couple of minutes, so he was basically coming into the game cold. On the ensuing offensive possession, he whiffed a short hook. In all, Hawes would play for just a minute and 20 seconds of action before Jordan finished out the final two minutes. Other than the missed shot, Hawes didn't really affect the game. But I still feel like Brooks' strategy here was key to keeping the game's momentum under control. It forced the Clippers to show their hand, and that can mean a lot mentally.
3. Better Lineup Management
(Popcorn Machine from last night's game here)
Okay, so Brooks only had 8 players. But early on in the game, when the Thunder had 9 players available, Scotty avoided making the same mistake that he made on Wednesday in Portland. He avoided playing the dreaded Telfair-Roberson-Thomas-Collison-Perkins lineup that's completely incapable of generating offense. Instead, Jones was stuck in with the bench for a long stretch. That Jones+bench lineup was able to tread water by playing gritty and grabbing a couple of fouls.
Later in the game, when Brooks only had 8 players, he was forced to play a couple of really bad lineups. One involved Perry Jones trying to run the point with Andre Roberson as the only other guard, while the other involved playing the zero offense lineup that I mentioned earlier. The result wasn't that bad though. The two terrible lineups managed to manufacture some free throws and waste a whole lot of time. I have to applaud Brooks for having the guts to trot out those two lineups, when other coaches might have simply given an entire half to Telfair or Jones. It kept everybody fresh for the late game, and kept us close until the end.
Lastly, I'd just like to highlight the fact the Brooks gave about three minutes of gametime to the classic Ibaka-Perkins lineup. Considering that the team has an effectively complete big man rotation, I like that touch. Hopefully as time goes on, Brooks will find ways to play Perkins and Collison side by side less and less.
4. Not giving up on establishing the three point shot with bigs
In an early pre-season game against the Golden State Warriors, Byron Scott, Coach of the Lakers, ordered his team to shoot no three pointers. The Lakers, unsurprisingly, were creamed.
I've yet to see such a strategy employed in a regular season game, though the Bulls were pretty close a couple of years ago. But still, I have to admire Coach Brooks for continuing to go to the three late in the game. On a team with such big, lumbering players, opening up space on the floor is absolutely critical. If there's anything that can get the Clippers bigs to chase our bigs out onto the perimeter, than the Thunder have to utilize that. So it's awesome that Ibaka and Collison were both looked to for threes in the fourth quarter, and that Ibaka was able to nail two of them.
I'd even go so far as to say that I wouldn't mind looking to those two shooting late-game threes moving forward. It's not an ideal situation rebounding-wise, but it's a clean shot that you can get almost every time. That's hard to come by, especially when you're as bereft of shooters as the Thunder are right now.
5. Awesome end of game set play
I'm gonna go ahead and refer you to Mike Prada's excellent article about the play Brooks drew up at the end of regulation. I soooooo wish it could have just gone in. It would have made for my favorite Thunder victory of all time.
What did you think of Coach Brooks' decision making last night? Let us know in the comments!