Sunday, June 1, 2014

Spurs - Thunder Game 6: Plenty of Time to Rest

Catch A Cab Outta Town
Tonight in Oklahoma City, in an elimination game With 13 minutes left for the Thunder, Derek Fisher came free and made a jumper on a relatively ordinary play.

In the fourth, Fisher also made a three.

And I've just told you about all five of the points that Thunder players not named Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson or Serge Ibaka scored in this game.

No, seriously.

After Fisher's first make, the Spurs, who got points from 10 of 11 players that hit the floor in a game with no garbage time (only Patty Mills had a goose egg, in 18 minutes of play) ... executed one of those Showtime-esque passing displays, a tic-tac-toe touch where the ball never stuck or hit the floor, ending in an open corner three by Boris Diaw, in the middle of his highest scoring game of the year (26 in 36 minutes, he lead the team). After that, Jackson missed a three, and Danny Green connected on one of those faddish 4-point plays that ended the third quarter scoring. Suddenly, the Spurs led by 10, and everyone watching this game knew that the Thunder were in real trouble.

At the end of the third quarter, Thunder coach Scott Brooks actually said something telling in the coach interview with TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge. When asked about the lack of bench scoring, and if his stars were going to have enough left in the tank to win this game, Brooks said. "We only have 12 more minutes. Plenty of time to rest."

Now, I think he meant to say that if they didn't win the game, there would be plenty of time to rest. Or that he had faith in his guys, or that they were in great condition, or that they'd be fine for the stretch run, or whatever. But what it really said to me is that Brooks knew this was the last game of the year, and he was going to give the home crowd every minute he could with their favorite players.

The fourth quarter was back and forth. OKC made a comeback behind the defensive pressure of Westbrook, who picked up a half dozen steals to go with a remarkable 17 of 18 performance from the free throw line; it almost mitigated his 7 turnovers and 8 for 23 shooting. Ibaka made his presence felt defensively, Durant got his points, even after stepping on Kawhi Leonard's foot, looking like he blew out an ankle badly. The Spurs sorely missed Tony Parker, out for the game with ankle issues, and had to rely on Many Ginobili for point guard work, which exacerbates his all-or-nothing passing styles and turnover issues.

But when your stars never get off the floor, they eventually stop being stars. And when your entire roster is enabled and all-in, they contribute. Marco Belinelli made a three and gave the Spurs another option when Gibobili needed rest, and Green and Mills weren't hitting. With Brooks going small to make sure he could keep up with the Spurs' offense, the Spurs kept finding whoever Derek Fisher was trying to defend, or trusted in Tim Duncan to win his matchup against Ibaka to take them home in overtime. And when OKC fell behind for the last time, they resorted to increasingly unhinged heroball attempts by Westbrook when they weren't turning it over.

If Gregg Popobich had the Thunder roster, he wins this series. Because Popovich would have gotten stuff out of the Thunder bench -- all year -- and made them viable options in this playoff series. He also wouldn't have allowed Durant and Westbrook to get so many minutes in the regular season, so they'd be gassed by Game Six. He'd have developed better options than coach-to-be Fisher in elimination minutes, given confidence to Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones, and moved away from Kendrick Perkins without losing the locker room.

So, before we get into the Finals pick, which really is best left to another day (and, most importantly, when we've got an idea of whether Parker will be able to go in the Finals), there's this.

Should the Thunder fire Scott Brooks?

It seems a little crazy on some level. OKC was six wins away from a title. Their win total has increased every year. They do some great things. It's easy to see them taking steps back under another coach that, for instance, tries to rein in Westbrook, or challenges Durant to put his height to work in the post when teams take away his driving ability with guard defense. The megachurch OKC crowd isn't screaming for his blood; hell, they gave standing ovations at the close of this game, like the Thunder were an 8 seed that gave the Spurs a good scare.

But they lost this series in garbage time in Game Four, where the Spur shock troops sucked big minutes out of the starters. And they lost it again in Game Five, when Popovich ended the Ibaka Renaissance with Diaw. And they lost it again tonight, when the Spurs got away with Diaw on defense, and they went to mismatch defensive sets that just gave the Spurs all kinds of high percentage opportunities for anything Ibaka couldn't get to.

So, if they are serious about winning a title?

Dude has got to go.

Along with Perkins, and Fisher, and Caron Butler, and Durant winning scoring titles or MVP's on volume, and Westbrook getting triple or quadruple doubles with negative categories mixed in...

1 comment:

Snd_dsgnr said...

Got to see good Westbrook and bad Westbrook in the same game this time. He was the best player on the court through four quarters, and then shot them out of OT.

As for Brooks, they really should fire the guy. He's had this crew for several years now and still hasn't put a half court offense in place beyond Westbrook and Duraht taking turns at hero ball. Plus he lost this close out game at home, with two of the five best players in the league, against a team missing their best player for the second half.

I think they'll keep him though.

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