MIAMI — Let’s end the speculation now: He ain’t changing it.
At shootaround Sunday morning Scott Brooks made it pretty clear — the starting five the Thunder have used for basically two years now is staying the same. He went as far to say he hasn’t even considered making a switch.
“It hasn’t even crossed my mind to change the starting lineup,” Brooks said.
Not even a little?
“I’ve never considered changing the starting lineup,” Brooks said. “We’re pretty good.”
Clearly the chatter has stemmed from the Thunder’s two painfully slow starts, as well as the fact the Heat don’t play two traditional big men, meaning Serge Ibaka is left chasing Shane Battier around on the perimeter. It’s a matchup problem and something the Thunder haven’t exactly dealt with.
But at the same time, they also have just started games terribly. A 1-11 start in Game 2 wasn’t because of the starting five as much as it was OKC missed a whole lot of shots.
Brooks has always been pretty stubborn with lineups and rotations, always choosing to believe in the plan and process rather than adapt or change. That’s kind of the Thunder model, translated to the court.
“We really believe in what we do. It’s not arrogant, it just works for us,” he said. There’s always a chemistry thing that’s important. You just can’t throw guys on the floor and hope it works. Our guys work well together. We’ve won a lot of games. And prior to the day before, we won five playoff games in a row. That’s hard to do. And we lost by two points, had a chance to tie the game. There’s nobody panicking in our group.”
Continuity is wise, especially with a young team. Brooks has never changed a lineup unless he had to and to do it after one loss in the NBA Finals after sticking with it for so long would send a rather panicky message. He believes in consistency, believes in stability. Before OKC acquired Kendrick Perkins, many were calling for Brooks to bring Jeff Green off the bench. Brooks remained defiant. Then again, many called for James Harden to start over Thabo Sefolosha. Brooks stuck to his guns.
Many even called for a change when the Thunder fell behind the Spurs in the Western Conference finals 2-0. Brooks stayed with the plan. And what has happened? His team is in the NBA Finals, three wins away from a championship.
Seems to me, Scott Brooks might know what he’s doing. He just might know his team a little better than us.
“I’ve heard that [starting lineup] question so many times the past couple days, you always think of ways to get your team to play better,” Brooks said. “I think we’ve been pretty good with our group. I definitely hear that quite often. Unfortunately, it’s hard to take all the advice. I’m only allowed three bench assistant coaches. The commissioner is here if you want to petition him, I’d be willing to maybe take one more on.”
Not to say there’s not room for a little criticism. After the impact Nick Collison had in Game 1, it was curious as to why Collison only played 15 minutes in Game 2. And just because you hang with your starting group doesn’t mean you have to leave them on the floor for the first seven minutes. Because at this point, digging any kind of hole can be deadly and if you plan to stick with the same five, you can’t remain completely stubborn. If something’s not working, it’s just not working.
Game 3 will likely prove it one way or the other. The Thunder won Game 1 with the regular first five and lost Game 2. Depending on the first seven minutes of Game 3, we’ll have a better sense as to if this is a lineup pattern, or if it was just a case of some early game jitters.
A few other notes and quotes:
- Anyone that spoke with the media, including Russell Westbrook, was asked about the criticism directed at Russell Westbrook. And here’s the thing: I realize there’s criticism and noise around Russ. (Heck, I wrote 2,000 words about it.) But at the same time, I almost think there’s an assumption that the criticism is bigger than it really is. When Derek Fisher and Brooks and whoever else are getting questions like, “How does Russell respond to so much criticism?” it makes it seem like everyone in the world is against him. When in reality, it’s a very vocal minority that seems to be driving this ridiculous bus.
- Westbrook did say this about the criticism though: “I let it go in one ear and out the other.”
- Westbrook was asked if there’s any player he modeled his game after: “Nah, there really wasn’t nobody I modeled my game after. My favorite growing up was Magic Johnson. But there really wasn’t nobody I modeled my game”
- He was then asked if he sees another player in the league that plays like him. “Nah,” was his answer.
- Derek Fisher on a starting lineup change: “Personally I don’t think we need to change our lineup because we lost a game. Our lineup has obviously worked well for us and put us in this position to have an opportunity to win a championship. We just have to play better regardless of what the lineup is and that’s what we’ll be focused on tonight.”
- Fisher on what he envisions as a better start tonight: “Anything other than 18 to 2 is a step in the right direction.”
- Brooks on people calling for changes: “I’ve seen some of the stuff, I haven’t seen it to the point where it’s all over the place. I read certain people’s stuff. I don’t pay too much attention to the bloggers. But I love people that talk about basketball. I love the game. I love to talk about it.”
- Don’t pay much attention to the bloggers? Ouch. Maybe he was just being nice, but after his time was finished, Brooks tried to make up for the zing. “I read your stuff, Royce.” Well, in that case… HI SCOTT!
- Brooks was asked if he thinks there’s a bit too much fascination with starting fives: “It’s important to have a good start and a good finish. Every fight is important. You can’t just say we’re going to knock the guy in the final round. You got to punch him in the first round just as many times as the last round. It’s important to fight every round and every possession and that’s what we have to do. They did a good job in Game 2, we did a good job in Game 1.
- One thing with Brooks to remember: He pulled all the right strings after the 0-2 hole against the Spurs. I have reason to believe he’s going to make the necessary adjustments here too. He wants to win an NBA title and if he thinks something could prevent that whether it’s a starting five or sub, he’s going to do what it takes. To me, he’s earned that trust after the coaching he did in the Western Conference finals.