A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

From the bad coaching files: Scott Brooks leaving Thabo Sefolosha in

with 6 comments

Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach...

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

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.

6 Responses

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  1. 100% agree. Brooks leaves a lot to be desired as a tactician and roster manager.

    They need to start Harden, especially in this matchup with Dallas. Sefolosha should only play spot minutes against Dallas and ONLY against JET. What the hell is the point in starting him to matchup with Stevenson? Seriously, Brooks is being way too stubborn with his lineup. Harden needs to play 40+ mins. (assuming no more foul troubles…)

    Regarding that last play in regulation, I’ll take it further. Durant should be at the 4 on that play with Maynor, Westbrook, Cook and Ibaka filling out the floor. Put the ball in Durant’s hands. Have him make an early move (like he did), and have him pass the ball. The result should be an open look for one of the other guys barring a mistake.


    May 24, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    • Yes. There’s NO reason Harden shouldn’t start on this team. Also, for some reason Brooks seems at times to just watch the game as a fan would. Doesn’t he realize he should be coaching. Does he think he’s Phil Jackson letting his players “work it out”? I blame Brooks as much as the players for last night’s meltdown. A better coach would not have allowed his team to lose sight of the fact that the game wasn’t over.

      NBA Playoff Fan

      May 24, 2011 at 4:50 pm

  2. Was impressed with your insight till I looked back at the box score. Sefolosha was 6/10 on the night. Collison, whom you also dissed, 5/7.

    In contrast, Maynor was 1/4 and Cook 0/0. Not an obvious situation for second guessing.


    May 24, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    • The stats from one game really don’t counteract multiple seasons of evidence that Sefolosha isn’t a scorer.


      May 25, 2011 at 1:22 am

    • You have to look ONE in game performance and think it through. Cook shot 42% from 3 and Maynor shot 39% on the season compared to Sefolosha 27%. By putting those two guys on the court it provides valuable spacing to Durant and Westbrook and puts your best shooters in a position to be able to take open shots. The fact that Sefolosha and Collison had good shooting nights is irrelevant. Making those adjustments would change the way Dallas played defense.


      May 25, 2011 at 6:47 am

  3. […] From the bad coaching files: Scott Brooks leaving Thabo Sefolosha in (asubstituteforwar.com) […]

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