There’s a harsh reality a team has to face when it falls into a playoff hole. Blame starts flying. Fingers get pointed. Heads are called for. The other team can’t possibly be better, so it has to be someone’s fault, so why not start with the head coach? The Thunder are backed into a corner and have to respond at home, otherwise their season will end the same as it did a year ago. Some are putting jobs on the line with this series, but I find that completely ridiculous. Don’t fall into that grass-is-greener-overreact-at-everything trap. At least not yet.
But still, what could Scott Brooks and his staff be doing different and how much blood is on their hands?
1. Grade Scott Brooks through two games.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: C. I realize a lot of people are upset with Brooks. Upset with the stubborn rotations, the weird attachment to Derek Fisher and most importantly, that the Thunder are down 0-2. I didn’t like the way he managed Game 2 at all. Blame Brooks if you like. He’s fine with the responsibility. But at the same time, a coach can only do so much. “Outcoached” is an easy word to drop around but in the same way Brooks “outcoached” Mike Brown, Gregg Popovich is doing the same to Brooks. At a certain point it becomes more about personell and matchups, something of which it’s becoming increasingly clear the Thunder don’t have compared to the Spurs. Brooks has obviously erred in a few crucial areas. Would we have a different result than 0-2 though? I doubt it. Players gotta play.
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: Incomplete. I have no choice here, because I was among the thousands of Oklahoma City area residents who didn’t have power for most of Game 2, so I had to rely on the voice of Matt Pinto instead of my eyes. But based on what I have seen, I don’t think he deserves worse than a C for now. So he’s getting out-coached by Gregg Popovich. Does that make him special? The Spurs haven’t won 20 straight games because Scott Brooks can’t do a good enough job against them.
Clark Matthews, The Lost Ogle: C-. I’m not down on him for sitting Serge in the 4th quarter of game 1 (Serge had been abused in one-on-one defense against Duncan and he can’t/won’t guard guys who drift to the perimeter), but Brooks has been destroyed by Popovich. For a guy who has recently own Coach of the Year, you’d think it would be a little closer.
Young: Yes. That’s definitely not Brooks’ style, nor the Thunder, but it’s kind of now or never. I think I have a better chance getting a 10-day contract than Brooks changing his starting five, but he seriously needs to reconsider. I will sing the praises of Perk all day long for his interior defense and pump his value, but I’m not too dumb to realize he doesn’t have much value in this series. A starting five pairing Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison makes a lot more sense. A rotation adjustment that brings Harden in earlier and gives OKC more time with the three-guard lineup could help. The Thunder are a good team, but you can’t leave bullets in the gun at this point.
James: No. Call me crazy, but reinventing yourself on the fly to beat a team that has won 20 straight in four of the next five games is probably not going to get it done. You’ve got to go with the system you’ve been working with all season and play to your strengths. A change I’d like to see that I don’t consider drastic would be to reduce Derek Fisher’s minutes, but not necessarily by plugging in Westbrook. The Thunder briefly played without a traditional point guard in the March 25 home win over Miami, letting James Harden handle the ball. (His season-high seven turnovers were unrelated to that development.) A small interior but big perimeter lineup of Kendrick Perkins/Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant, Harden, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook could be a mix of defensive and offensive ability that could swing a quarter or two.
Matthews: Sure, why not? What do they have to lose? They have to win four of the next five games against a team that hasn’t lost at all in something like two months. There has to be a drastic shift in momentum, and one way to do that is to pull out all the stops. Don’t leave anything on the table.
3. Is it over?
Young: It sure feels that way, but I’d be a total hypocrite if I said yes because I didn’t think Game 2 was must-win. Still, winning four out of five against a team that hasn’t lost for almost two months seems like quite the task. Not impossible though. It starts with one, and it has to happen in Game 3. I get the feeling if the Thunder can just break through once, it could get them started. They’re good enough to win this series. But time’s running out.
James: No way. I still feel exactly the same through two games as I did before the first: The Spurs are amazing, and they’re likely to beat the Thunder. The Thunder missed out on their best chance to win, which would have come with a road split. But two emotionally charged wins in Oklahoma City turn the whole thing around. Four wins in five games? Well, if anybody in the NBA can do that, it’s the Thunder. Maybe no one can, because the Spurs are that good, and OKC will go down to the champs for the third consecutive year. But the Thunder are too good, too proud and too hard-working to be dismissed without having played a single minute in this series on their home floor.
Matthews: Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!?!?!