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MIAMI — Amazing what a difference a series, and a few losses, make. After the Thunder’s Game 6 triumph over the Spurs, the Thunder seemed to validate so much, as well give Scott Brooks a proper coronation for a wonderfully managed series. It wasn’t just a matter of if he was getting that contract extension in Oklahoma City, it was a question as to how much it would cost to keep him.
Now, the table hasn’t just turned, it’s been flipped over with all four legs ripped off. Scott Brooks is the target, the one who is supposedly responsible for this Finals disappointment.
Because it’s easy.
When you have a team that is as talented as this Thunder squad is, and they lose? Well, it must be someone’s fault. Because there’s no way they’d do it on their own. And the coach is always the easiest target.
Not to say Brooks hasn’t made his errors. His substitutions have been erratic, he’s fallen in love too often with Derek Fisher, he doesn’t seem to share the same affinity for Nick Collison that I do, and in terms of pushing magical buttons in the same way he did against the Spurs, Brooks has struck out a few times.
But the question is, did Scott Brooks make James Harden go 4-20 the last two games? Because if he did, then yeah, it’s all his fault.
Perk certainly shined the spotlight square at Brooks following last night’s loss.
“I just don’t understand why we start out the first quarter the way we did, with the lineup that we had, and all of a sudden we change and adjust to what they had going on,” Perkins said after Game 4. “So they won the last three quarters, and that’s what happened.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
That sounds like a good old fashion call out. Perk was frustrated after the loss, maybe about getting only 18 minutes or maybe just about the whole thing. Whatever the case, naturally he backtracked Wednesday.
“No, that wasn’t what I was saying,” Perkins said. “I was just trying make it clear that at the time, he had a good adjustment what we was doing, but at the end of the day, when you’re in the flow of the game, or you’re in the heat of the battle, guys out there playing hard, a couple box outs here or a couple loose balls there and we end up winning the game.
“So at the end of the day, it wasn’t nothing directed at Coach Brooks or nothing to that nature,” he continued. “I’ll roll with Coach Brooks all day. So it wasn’t nothing directed at him or that nature.”
Brooks somehow escaped being asked directly about Perk’s comments, but did offer this: “I don’t think the game comes down to who plays and who doesn’t play. It’s how we play.”
Obviously there’s some irony in the fact it was Perk who was in the middle of this when so many are convinced Perk is one of the problems Brooks has right now. At a certain point, a coach is limited to who his team is and what personnel he has. Brooks could be managing it all better, of course. How do we know this? Because the Thunder are down 3-1 in the series.
If he were pulling all the right strings, the Thunder would at least be 2-2. But that’s part of the whole team mentality. In the same way we rush to defend Harden, or Durant or Westbrook after a bonehead shot or foul, why don’t we give Brooks the same benefit? Like anyone else on the team, he’s a work in progress, part of the long-term plan. Or so one would think.
I’m not a big fan of the “Is [insert coach] being outcoached?” Because that often comes down to the simple fact of if his team is winning. Brooks “outcoached” Gregg Popovich because the Thunder won. Brooks “outcoached” Mike Brown because he had a much better and deeper team than the Lakers. Obviously a coach has some kind of impact on the game, but I don’t think Erik Spoelstra is pulling off some kind of incredible coaching wizardry while Brooks is twiddling his thumbs. Spoelstra’s getting 25 points from Mario Freaking Chalmers while James Harden is giving nothing.
Is it really that simple? Again, no. And I’m not trying to let Scotty off the hook entirely here. But when you’re looking for somewhere to point the finger, don’t always take the easy path out and direct it toward whoever is coaching. I realize, that’s life in sports. As the saying goes, you win, you’ve got great players. Lose, and it’s terrible coaching. It’s much easier to scapegoat a coach than a player, because the players are the ones who win you games. They’re the ones making plays. So you give them more grace. Hard to really getting pumped when Brooks sends Collison to the scorer’s table the same way you do when KD drills a massive clutch 3.
Is Brooks blowing the series? Hardly. Has he managed substitutions and matchups well the past three games? Hardly.
Is all he needs is a little three-game win streak to be back to being a coaching genius? Absolutely.
A few other notes and quotes from practice:
- James Harden showed up to talk to reporters wearing an ace bandage on his left hand. He was asked what the deal was and he said, “Just icing it.” I’m not normally one to roll eyes, but after two of the worst shooting nights we’ve ever seen from Harden, he conveniently shows up to talk to reporters with his shooting hand wrapped? Maybe it’s really hurt. Or maybe he wanted everyone to see it was hurt.
- Official word is a bruised left hand and he’ll play in Game 5.
- Westbrook talked about the foul at the end of the game more and took more responsibility for it. “For some odd reason, when the jump ball occurred, there was about maybe 0.4 seconds on the shot clock, and I was just thinking like it was 13 seconds left, so if they won the tip, then we were going to have to foul. But I forgot that you get five seconds once the jump ball occurred again, and I just forgot. Just a mental error on my part.”
- KD’s new media tactic: Turn a question back on the reporter. If he gets asked something he doesn’t especially like, he’ll say, “You think I wasn’t passing enough?” Or, “You think I didn’t play good?” I can’t tell if I like this or not.
- KD: “Everybody in the world knows our backs are against the wall right now. That’s all you guys write. But we’re down 3‑1. We’re down 3‑1 with a chance to try to take it back to Oklahoma City tomorrow. We can’t win three games in a row here in Miami. We can’t win the series by next game. We’ve got to take it a possession at a time, a game at a time and go from there. You know, tomorrow, of course, is a do or die, and we’ve got to come out and perform.”
- KD again: “It’s all about keep competing until that last buzzer sounds, and that’s what we’re going to do. That’s the type of city we play for, a city that never gives up. That’s the type of team we are. We’re going to keep fighting, keep fighting, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.
- And KD again: “We’re going to keep fighting to the end, and hopefully we can take this thing back to the crib.”
- I’d say the Thunder’s mood at practice was pretty upbeat. They know the situation. But they aren’t crying about it.
- Smoothie King update: Tried Banana Boat today. Not my favorite, but solid.
- Perk was very clearly uncomfortable talking to the media today and was picking his words wisely. He used the phrase “at the end of the day” at least 22 times. That’s how many I counted before I walked away.