Often criticized and maligned for his perceived lack of coaching ability and his unwillingness to make changes and adjustments, Brooks came through in the biggest game of the Thunder’s short playoff run.
Trailing 3-2 to the Memphis Grizzlies and facing elimination on the road, the Thunder needed to win or go home and Brooks gave OKC every chance from the very opening tip. For the first time in the series, Brooks started Caron Butler over Thabo Sefolosha.
It proved to be a masterstroke.
Sefolosha is a terrific defender but when you already have one player who is defensively minded and a bit of an offensive liability, to play two makes life harder for the other three starters. By adding Butler to the mix, the Thunder lost nothing defensively – the man they call “Tuff Juice” has always been a solid defender – but they more importantly were able to space the floor. This created a lot more room for the best scorer in the game to go to work, and Durant obliged.
Butler has the strength, size and length to be a very tough matchup for anyone, but he also has the added bonus of being able to score the basketball more frequently than Thabo and is not just a set shot from down town. Butler had been used as a reserve in order to keep some offence on the court when Durant and / or Westbrook rested, but Reggie Jackson has provided that so Butler moved into the starting five.
The slow starts have been a serious problem for the Thunder throughout this entire series, so it was great to see the lineup change result in a positive outcome. Once the Thunder had momentum and took the crowd out of it, it made their task a little easier. It also gave Westbrook, Durant and the rest of the team confidence that they could grab the road win and take this series back home for a Game 7.
Brooks also played rookie Steven Adams a little more than he had in the previous few games. Barely sighted since Game 1, the Kiwi made an impact every minute he was on the floor. His size, strength and energy seemed to spark the Thunder and he made life very difficult for the Grizzlies frontline. He registered a couple of points, a few rebounds and 5 blocks – but his impact was a lot greater than the boxscore can show.
So credit the Thunder with being able to fight back from the brink of elimination. Credit Durant for being able to break the shackles and put numbers on the board. But also credit Scott Brooks for making the right moves at the right time to get the job done.
Let’s hope this gives him the confidence to trust in himself and to make the moves he feels will benefit this team – and win Game 7 in the process.