By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) “It could’ve been a communication thing.”
That was Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks’ response to a question about his star guard, Russell Westbrook, committing a foul in the waning seconds of the Miami Heat’s 104-98 victory Tuesday, a foul that helped the Heat ice the win at the free throw line.
That foul showed Westbrook was not aware of the shot clock situation from the play before. That’s because Brooks did not make his team aware there were five seconds still remaining on the shot clock if the Heat won the jump ball from the previous play, which the Heat did. The “communication thing” is admittance of that.
That epic fail by Brooks was just one in a series of questionable decisions in this series and throughout the 2012 playoffs, though that one may have sealed the Thunder’s fate in this series as Miami went up 3-1. If these playoffs have proven anything besides Lebron James being the game’s best player, Russell Westbrook being legitimized as a superstar in this league (that foul not withstanding), Dwyane Wade being a mostly harmless, loud, whiny bird in the autumn of his career (his performance when James was injured late in Game 4 not withstanding), James Harden having a meme-inducing beard and a toilet paper-inducing intestinal fortitude, and Kevin Durant being largely unstoppable (when not on the bench), it’s that Scott Brooks really isn’t a good coach.
Brooks received the 2009-10 NBA Coach of the Year award after the Thunder finished the regular season with fifty wins. It is evident that in that season and the subsequent ones the Thunder is a team that has gradually gotten better because its talent—mainly Durant and Westbrook—have improved despite its head coach.
In the three straight Thunder playoff appearances, the Thunder have won games and series almost solely because of on the floor talent and not because of any coaching strategy. Dominant performances have sometimes been able to mask ineptitude in a suit and tie, but sometimes a game like Westbrook’s 43 points in Game 4 have not been enough to hide how overmatched Brooks is.
I’m not just claiming this from my couch or a craned neck in a restaurant. Even Thunder center Kendrick Perkins let his issues with his head coach be known following Tuesday’s loss.
“I just don’t understand why we start out the first quarter the way we did with the lineup we had, and all of a sudden we change and adjust to what they had going on,” Perkins, the only Thunder player with a positive plus-minus in Game 4, said. “So they won the last three quarters and that’s what happened.”
After the first quarter, the Thunder led 33-19 and looked to be on their way to dominating the game. They were instead outscored in every subsequent quarter. Perkins suggested a simple motto that has gotten the Thunder wins all season. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The problem for Perkins and his teammates as they face watching the Heat hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, though, is that Brooks may continue to aimlessly tinker with what many think is an already solid formula of letting Durant and Westbrook do their thing with help from the supporting cast at times. Several times in these playoffs, opponents have capitalized on Brooks sitting Durant and Westbrook at the same time and/or subbing players in when the Thunder are on a roll with the five guys out there already (see: older, slower, smarter San Antonio Spurs).
Derek Fisher established himself years ago as a playoff hero. Years ago. Today he provides a nice veteran presence, but overall he’s a shell of his former self, largely incapable of keeping up with most guards on defense, let alone a team that can strike as quickly as the Heat. But his head coach loves him. Loves him so much he had Fisher in the game when defensive stops were needed that Fisher could not provide and offense was needed to which Fisher contributed a 0-1 from the field performance in 22 minutes of floor time.
Nick Collison has proven to be effective when on the court and was so again Tuesday night. But he only logged 17 minutes for some reason, ten minutes less than Serge Ibaka, whose biggest contribution to this series is an incredibly stupid quote.
Brooks has consistently looked outmatched on the sidelines throughout the playoffs, and not just in this series in which he’s made a so-so Erik Spoelstra—hardly Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, or Rick Carlisle who have outcoached Brooks, even in Thunder wins, in previous series and years—look Coach of the Year worthy. That’s unfortunate for a team as good and as fun to watch as Oklahoma City.
Teams can win games and even series by accident because their players are too good not to. Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers fans familiar with the clown show that is Vinny Del Negro know that all too well. Championships don’t happen by accident, though.
No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the Finals. I wonder if Scott Brooks knows that and will do what’s worked and only what’s worked to try to salvage his team’s season. I wonder if he heard what Kendrick Perkins is asking.
Or maybe it’ll be another communication thing.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at email@example.com. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.