From the bad coaching files: Scott Brooks leaving Thabo Sefolosha in
If you were watching Game 4 of the Dallas-Oklahoma City series last night, you saw one of the biggest 4th quarter collapses in NBA Playoff history. The Thunder were leading by 15 with under 5 minutes left and lost in overtime.
The turning point was James Harden fouling out, of which Dallas went on a 17-2 run immediately following. But for me what really sunk the Thunder was Scott Brooks. Specifically, Brooks leaving Thabo Sefolosha in the game the entire last 5 minutes and overtime.
If you’ve watched the Thunder regularly, you’ll have seen the team strugging offensively with Sefolosha is in the game. The concept is simple – Since Sefolosha is a virtual non offensive threat, the man defending him usually leaves him to go play a free safety role on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Compounding this, since the C position is usually played by Kendrick Perkins or Nick Collision, the Thunder are left playing virtually 3 on 5 with Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka. When 2 of 5 defenders are free to double team without repurcussions, it makes the offense disastrous.
There is benefits to playing Sefolosha for periods of time. He helps them defensively and one of the things that makes the Thunder succesful is consistent roles, leading to happy players and team chemistry. I suspect this is why Brooks has kept Sefolosha’s minutes high after the Jeff Green/Kendrick Perkins trade, despite his fit being far more poor in the new lineup.
But when the rubber meets the road in the playoffs you can’t play the team happiness card. You have to do whatever it takes to win the game. Brooks had a perfect oppurtunity to change the offensive lineup - When the Mavericks cut the lead down from 15 to 8 and the Thunder took a full timeout. At that point it was obvious the offense was collapsing. Furthermore, the solution was obvious. Since Dallas plays Jason Terry at SG, playing Russell Westbrook at the 2 would provide no defensive harm – in fact Westbrook is a fantastic defensive matchup against Terry. So an Eric Maynor, Russell Westbrook backcourt would’ve worked fine. Or you play Daequon Cook at the 2 spot beside Westbrook. Either way adding a shooter in there would open up the offense and prevent the constant double teams without repurcussion on Durant- and give the team a new offensive look to stop the bleeding. Yet the lineup remained, not only through the last 5 minutes but all of overtime too.
The most incompetent Brooks-Sefolosha moment however may be one everyone forgets. Having a final possession in regulation with 6 seconds left and the game tied, the Thunder’s lineup on the floor was Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka and Collision. Say what you want about leaving the Sefolosha lineup in for defensive purposes for the rest of the collapse – But there is 0, nil, nada benefit to playing that lineup when you have the final possession and need to score. You bring in a shooter to spread the floor for your stars and be open for a broken play kickout. Period. That is simple incompetence. Brooks didn’t make the mistake twice as at the end of the overtime period he put in Daequon Cook and Eric Maynor, but it was too late.
I’m not saying Scott Brooks is a terrible coach. He has the Thunder playing hard, together and on both ends, which is in part due to the player loyalty shown here. But player loyalty cannot transcend what needs to be done in playoff games to win. He should know it and the players should. This is his collapse more than anyone’s.