The Oklahoma City Thunder collapsed in game four. They led the entire game, went up by as much as 22, and held a 16-point lead in the fourth. Yet they lost. It was like living out a bad nightmare. A nightmare caused by Scott Brooks.
A team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shouldn’t blow a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, but it happened, and it happened because Brooks couldn’t recognize simple basketball observations and make the proper adjustments.
Blake Griffin played the entire fourth quarter with five fouls. Logic tells you that you attack him. Westbrook is one of the best rim attackers in the game. Very few players in the NBA can stay in front of him, and when the paint opens up with both teams going small, Westbrook has even more room to work. Westbrook attacked the basket once, coming into contact with Griffin, but not drawing the foul. Westbrook didn’t attack after that until it was too late. Durant never attacked the basket either. Serge Ibaka never even got the ball. Ibaka isn’t a great post player, but Griffin would’ve been limited defensively with his five fouls. Had the Clippers brought a second defender to help Griffin, they would’ve left Caron Butler, Reggie Jackson, Durant or Westbrook open. All four are capable shooters. Westbrook and Ibaka didn’t run a single pick and roll either. They didn’t force Griffin to make a decision on whether he wanted to give Westbrook as easy lay up, give Ibaka a good look, or play strong defense and possible pick up his sixth foul.
Griffin was allowed to play the entire fourth quarter with five fouls because Oklahoma City ran the only play they know how to run in the fourth quarter.
Thunder fans have seen it for years. If it’s the fourth quarter of a close game, the team is going to run one play and one play only. A weak screen to free Durant for a split second, followed by a post up just outside the paint. This play gives Oklahoma City a couple of options:
1. They get Durant the ball with plenty of time remaining on the shot clock and allow him to work. This usually results in a Durant turn around or a quick drive to the basket.
2. They get Durant the ball with little time on the shot clock, only giving him time to shoot a quick turnaround. When this happened, the Clippers immediately sent a second defender, which gave Durant trouble because the shot clock was winding down and his teammates weren’t spaced out well enough for him to do anything.
3. They don’t get Durant the ball, meaning Westbrook holds the ball for 18 seconds of the shot clock and is then forced to do make his own play, which is usually a long three.
That’s the only play OKC runs and those are their only options. There is no movement from other players and there is no second play. It doesn’t matter what the situation on the floor is, if the game is close or getting close in the fourth, OKC will always run this play.
Chris Paul didn’t “lockdown” Durant in the fourth quarter, Scott Brooks “offensive set” locked down Durant.
The problems go deeper than OKC’s crunch time offense though.
I won’t even get into how Brooks handles his rotation or how he refuses to play guys like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones even though they provided strong minutes all season and could be difference makers with their length and athleticism, because it’s painfully obvious by now that Brooks is going to live and die with veterans Derek Fisher and Caron Butler.
I already wrote about Oklahoma City and their inability to stop shooting from three, which has continued in the second round as they average 23 attempts per game while only making 7.5 for an average of 32%. That percentage puts them only ahead of Memphis, Toronto, and Houston in the playoffs. I’ll give you one guess as to what those three teams have in common.
A bigger problem than the ill-advised threes has though been all the turnovers. The Thunder average 15.7 turnovers per game in the playoffs while only forcing 10.5. That 5.2 differential is the highest in the playoffs. This has been a long standing problem for Oklahoma City. For the past three seasons the Thunder has been in the top ten in the league in most turnovers, including leading the league three seasons ago.
Is part of the problem Russell Westbrook and his erratic passing? Yes, but a bigger part of the problem is Scott Brooks and his lack of an offensive system.
Brooks lets Durant and Westbrook do what they want on the floor, and because they are so talented, it’s gotten them good results. But it hasn’t gotten them a championship and, as much as I hate to say it, I’m not sure it will.
Scott Brooks is a very good mentor. He obviously has the respect of the team because he seems like a nice guy who just lets his players play. But that’s also part of the problem. He just lets them play. Durant and Westbrook, as talented as they are, are only 25-years old. As a fellow 25-year old, I can say that I still need guidance in my life. Durant and Westbrook are no different. All great players need guidance. Scott Brooks isn’t the man to guide them on the court.