Playing from Behind: Why the OKC Thunder Need to Change Their Starting Five

Alex JosephAnalyst IMay 23, 2011

DALLAS, TX - MAY 19:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts after making a three-pointer in the fourth quarter while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 19, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

As the night draws closer, the Oklahoma City Thunder players are busy getting prepared, both mentally and physically, for their Game Four matchup against the Dallas Mavericks

While the players take power naps, eat a light meal and head to the gym for pregame workouts, head coach Scotty Brooks is trying to get prepared as well, and his preparation is the most crucial. 

In Game Three, the Thunder were outhustled, outscored and most importantly, outcoached. It took everything the Thunder (which was mostly Russell Westbrook) had to pull within single digits in the fourth quarter. They just didn't have enough. 

They were playing from behind the entire game, after the Mavericks cruised out to an early 23-point lead, led by strong play from Shawn Marion. This isn't the first time the Thunder have played from behind though. 

In their opening series against the Denver Nuggets, the Thunder only needed five games to take care of business. However, they had to play from behind almost the entire series. They were outscored in four out of the five first quarters in that series.

In the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder pushed through in seven games, in what was one of the most competitive and physical series in the playoffs. This series was a bit more even, but they were still outscored at the end of the first quarter in four of the seven games.

The Thunder were able to push through these two series, though, because in the end, they were just the better team. They had better players and were playing as favorites but didn't let that get to them.

The same cannot be said for their current series. The Mavs are the better team. The Mavs know it, the broadcasters know it, the analysts know it and even if the Thunder don't want to admit it, I think they know it too. 

Does that mean the Mavs are destined to win the series? Not necessarily. It just gives them the upper-hand, something the Thunder have been playing with the entire playoffs. 

In Game Three, the Mavs initial opening run that propelled them to an almost insurmountable lead, can be attributed to things other than just being the best team on the court.

Both teams actually came out with a lot of energy to start the game, but turnovers that led to easy dunks by Marion and Chandler provided a scapegoat for the Mavericks to gain momentum. The Thunder have been plagued by turnovers throughout the playoffs, so that's the first thing that they need to address. Less turnovers equal less fast break points, which equals less playing from behind. 

Secondly, the Thunder were shooting an abysmal 27 percent in the first quarter, resulting in only twelve points. Nobody, including Kevin Durant (the leading scorer of the playoffs), could hit a layup, let alone a jump shot. This was the Thunder's worst shooting performance in the playoffs, but could it have been avoided?

Let me first start off by saying, I am completely against "fixing something if it isn't broken," and changing a starting lineup that made its way to the Western Conference Championships would seemingly be an example of this. However, you have to do what's best for the team when it's playoff time. 

Now, let me follow that by saying I really love the defensive-mindedness of this relatively new Thunder group, now that they have Kendrick Perkins in their starting lineup. However, with a lineup that already features a defensive stopper in Thabo Sefolosha, the offensive game of the Thunder, ESPECIALLY in the half court, becomes very limited. 

Russell Westbrook has taken a lot of criticism for what seems to be "selfish" play, as he continues to drive to the basket and take jump shot after jump shot. This cannot be blamed entirely on him though. The Thunder have the worst half-court offense in the league. They have two proven All-Stars in Westbrook and Durant, alongside a budding, but not yet fully developed, forward in Serge Ibaka. Ibaka is also more relied on for his defensive presence, rather than his scoring abilities. 

When in the halfcourt, this leaves Westbrook alone at the top of the key with the ball in his hands, waiting on teammates to screen for Durant. If Durant can't get open, Westbrook has to take matters into his own hands. Thus, usually trying to create something out of nothing, and nothing is what prevails more times than not. 

The Thunder's stagnant offense is the reason they are playing behind most of the time. There's no coincidence that the Thunder were able to get a victory in Game Two, behind the strong play of their bench. Reserve James Harden lead the way with 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while playing starter's minutes. 

I understand that you need a good bench just as much as anything in basketball, and I understand that Harden is already playing 12 more minutes a game than Sefalosha, but if you're Scotty Brooks, you have to start Harden solely for more offensive reliability to start a game. 

While Sefolosha is a proven defender, he has absolutely no place starting against this Mavericks roster. Dirk Nowitzki is going to be guarded by Ibaka, Marion is going to be guarded by Durant, Chandler is going to be guarded by Perkins and Kidd is going to be guarded by Westbrook. This leaves Sefalosha guarding DeShawn Stevenson, who is the Mavericks' proven defender. 

They cancel each other out. It makes no sense. Neither play offense well, but at least Stevenson is out their to guard Durant. He has a spot in their starting rotation because they have other offensive possibilities. 

Why not bring in Sefolosha when the Mavs bring in Jason Terry? Doesn't this make the most sense? Please let me know if I'm crazy for thinking so.

All I know is tonight is a must-win game for the Thunder, and I know that Scotty Brooks is not going to change up his starting lineup, and he probably won't even change up his rotation, even though Nick Collison needs to be out there instead of Perkins. 

But he should change it up. This is the playoffs.