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Game 5 Preview: Back to square one for the Thunder and Clippers

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Looking at Scott Brooks' problems, and what he can do to fix them. Also, is KD tired?

William Bennett Berry
2014 NBA Playoffs, Round 2

May 13th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
8:30 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), KFWB News Talk 980
Injury Report: Hedo Turkoglu (Questionable)
Previous Matchups: Game 1 (L 105-122), Game 2 (W 112-101), Game 3 (W 118-112)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Chris Paul
Thabo Sefolosha SG J.J. Redick
Kevin Durant SF Matt Barnes
Serge Ibaka PF Blake Griffin
Kendrick Perkins C DeAndre Jordan

So, by now we've all had our say on Scott Brooks' failures as a coach in Game 4.

But let me lay them out for you, in short form. Going into the latter half of the fourth quarter, the Thunder were up by 15. They had taken their bench off the floor, and were about to release the lineup that won them Game 3. The lineup, consisting of Westbrook-Jackson-Butler-Durant-Ibaka, forced mismatches against the Clippers because Griffin guarded Butler and Jordan guarded Ibaka. Neither could get out to their opponents shots, clearing a lot of room for Westbrook and KD.

On Sunday, Brooks went with that same lineup. But Doc Rivers responded by taking out Matt Barnes and DeAndre Jordan. In their place, he brought in Darren Collison and Danny Granger. It was a strange lineup that, according to Coach Nick, hasn't been used by the Clippers all season. But it was custom-built to eliminate the mismatches that the Thunder created against the Clips' normal lineup. Specifically, Ibaka was now defended by Griffin, who can stay with him in the mid-range. Furthermore, Jordan's removal left the team with mostly wings, so it was easy for them to cover their shooters.

Still, the Thunder are one of the best offenses in the league. Surely they could find a way to hold onto a 15 point lead with 11 minutes to go, right? Well, the planning just wasn't there. The Thunder expected things to come easily, and that the fear of their shooters becoming open would be enough to get Durant into single coverage. They ran the same nonsensical plays over and over, many with very little weak side ball movement. They also left Durant out to dry offensively, forcing him to bring the ball up the court against defenders that he probably couldn't handle. Truth be told, the offense wasn't atrocious. They did register 5 turnovers in the final 11 minutes, but their 8-18 shooting numbers are decent, especially when you factor in how they were 0-2 from three. They also went 5-6 from the line.

Really though, there are going to be some games where the Thunder run into defenses that hold them to that kind of production, even with the pace going as fast as it was. This lineup's primary failure was on the defensive end. They allowed the Clippers to shoot 63.6% from the floor, along with a 13-14 clip near the rim. That's just inexcusable. I mean, you might put some blame on Ibaka, who wasn't really his usual self in this fourth quarter. But when you look at how successful the Thunder's traditional lineups were, you have to wonder why Scott Brooks didn't go back to that. I mean, the Clippers took two threes during that stretch. Just two.

Of course, the lineup was an excellent ruse by Doc Rivers. His team had been regularly attacking the paint since a series of contested twos in the early third got them in trouble. It was difficult for the team to make progress, but they eventually made a huge breakthrough when Scott Brooks went small.

What can we expect tonight? Well, I'm really hoping that Doc Rivers will open up with his traditional lineup. The Thunder have seen by far the most success against them, and they had pretty much run the team into their fate. Knowing these two teams, though, it's hard to predict where things will go next. I'm assuming Doc will do his best to pressure KD on the perimeter, and make it hard for him to catch the ball in spots he likes. I'm hoping Brooks will instruct the Thunder to have a bit more motion in their offense, and work on getting opportunities for Reggie and a few others on plays that aren't just mismatches. I also hope, above all else, that Scott Brooks is able to make a key defensive adjustment in the fourth quarter based on a trend. You know, something that he's had mountains of trouble with over the course of his entire career.

Anyway, looking at the players, I'm really hoping KD can get some sort of rest heading into the fourth. I mean, in the post-game press conference, Doc Rivers refused to give credit to Chris Paul for stopping KD on defense. He laid the blame solely on Durant, accusing him of not making shots. The blame might be well-founded, given that Durant had played 44 minutes in that game. In fact, Durant has played over 40 minutes for 3 straight games, and was basically at that level for the entire Memphis series. If you look at his playoff gamelog (including the last couple games of the regular season) compared to his regular season gamelog, it's easy to see why KD might run out of gas. His defensive performance suffers, too, and it really makes a fan wish that the Thunder had a stronger bench.

But that's the lot we're in right now, and it's really hard to see Durant getting a break unless Reggie Jackson decides to explode. The bench just can't hold its' own offensively, and has no inherent advantage defensively. They feel like placeholders that just give the lead back to the Clippers, at this point. Still, the Thunder do have a very legitimate shot at winning this game, and it's just going to come down to their ability to either shut down the paint or outscore their opponent. Oh, and hope that J.J. Redick thing never happens again.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Los Angeles Clippers 108 (OT)

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