Scott Brooks won the 2009-2010 NBA Coach of the Year award by leading a young Oklahoma City Thunder team to a 50-32 record and the playoffs after a 23-59 season the year before. The Thunder lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in a spirited six-game series, but there was a lot of promise for the future. The Oklahoma City Thunder soared to a 55-27 record and entered the 2011 NBA Playoffs with expectations as the four seed. They immediately disposed of the Denver Nuggets in five games, and overcame the Memphis Grizzlies in a grueling seven-game series to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
The Thunder lost to the Dallas Mavericks in game one of the Western Conference Finals 121-112, but were able to defeat the Mavericks on the road in game two 106-100. Instead of the story being the young team defeating the veterans on the road, talk surrounded point guard Russell Westbrook sitting out the fourth quarter of the game in favor of backup point guard Eric Maynor. What affect did the benching of Russell Westbrook have on the team’s mental state? Questions were asked about a possible rift between their two 22-year old stars, Westbrook and Kevin Durant. With the series tied at one game apiece and Oklahoma City hosting games three and four, the Thunder had control of the series. Then they came out flat in game three.
The Dallas Mavericks began the game on fire, and led by as many as 17 points, 27-10 in the first quarter with 26 seconds left on a Shawn Marion jumper, expanding the lead to as many as 23 with 10:07 left in the second quarter on a Brendan Haywood lay up. The Thunder would eventually make a run, cutting the lead to 91-87 on a lay up by Nick Collison, but it was too little, too late.
Oklahoma City came out a house on fire in game four, hitting their first nine shots from the field, on their way to taking a double-digit first quarter lead. Their biggest lead of game, 15 points, came with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter on a three-pointer by Kevin Durant. James Harden fouled out on the next possession, and the Thunder struggled. Not to disminish Harden’s impact, but, with two all stars on the court, including the league’s leading scorer, you can not struggle to keep a 15-point lead, no less lose the game in overtime, but that is what the Thunder did, as they were outscored 17-2 in the final 4:48 and the Mavericks eventually won in overtime, 112-105.
Desperately needing a basket, Scott Brooks chose to stay with the same defensive lineup, as opposed to putting in Maynor or Nate Robinson alongside Westbrook. When your team is struggling to score a basket, having Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and Thabo Sefolosha isn’t exactly scaring any NBA defense. Nate Robinson has barely got off the bench in this series, logging a total of six minutes in the series opener, followed by three-straight DNP-CD, which stands for Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision. Maynor, the player that Scott Brooks played instead of Westbrook in game two, played 11 minutes with 2 points and 3 assists.
How do you lose a game you never trailed during regulation? The Oklahoma City Thunder showed us how last night, and Scott Brooks has to take the lion’s share of the blame.