Melting Pot: A Thunder Collapse and an Open Letter to Scotty Brooks
With five minutes to go in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, Kevin Durant hits only his second three of the game, but it couldn't have been any bigger.
The score reads 99-84; A fifteen point cushion for a Thunder team who had dominated their opponent the entire night.
What could possibly go wrong?
A whistle blows. James Harden is called for his sixth personal foul after going for an unwarranted steal. Harden is out. The Thunder are in the bonus.
Dirk Nowitzki, who is shooting what seems to be 500 of 500 in the series, goes to the line and knocks down two free throws.
Thabo Sefolosha replaces Harden in the lineup. Westbrook and Durant become the only two legitimate scoring options, but who cares, it's a 13-point game.
Flash forward—there are 0.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter—the score is tied, and the Mavericks have a chance to win the game.
What. Just. Happened.
The attempted lob pass to Marion is tipped away, and the game goes to overtime. The Mavericks have come from 15 down in five minutes, and the entire Thunder roster is deflated.
Who will win Game Six in Dallas?
Thus, the result is a complete Thunder collapse, resulting in a pivotal Game 4 loss, 112-105.
The Thunder are now down 3-1 in the series, and their climb back up from the hole they just dug themselves seems to be fading away with each step they take to their locker rooms, heads hung in shock.
How did this happen? The series seemed destined to be tied. The Thunder could have rode their Game 4 momentum into Dallas for Game 5.
Now, it seems as though all hope is lost.
While the Thunder shot the ball well, there were definite weaknesses to their effort. I wrote an article before the game started, saying that the Thunder HAD to address their increasingly devastating turnover count.
Game 4: 25 turnovers.
They didn't listen. Now, even with this exaggerated turnover count, the Thunder had plenty of opportunities to put the game away in the final five minutes.
What else went wrong?
This is where Scotty Brooks comes into blame. The Thunder are prone to run what Bill Simmons refers to as the "clogged toilet" offense at the end of games. This is where one player, in this case Westbrook, dribbles down the shot clock until the time comes to force up a contested jumper or turn the ball over.
They did this for five minutes. The result was one made shot. While the Thunder ran what they tried to call offense, the Mavs decided to actually take quality shots and get the ball to their superstar.
The poor offense is the main reason for the meltdown, and while this can be blamed on the players for not playing with the same intensity that they had been playing with before, the majority of the blame needs to be given to Scotty Brooks.
I understand the general idea of putting in Sefolosha when Harden fouled out. Brooks was likely thinking another defensive stopper would help keep the Mavs offense at bay. When this didn't work, though, Brooks should have recognized this and put in another scorer.
How did he think we got out to such an impressive lead? We had a perfect mix of scorers and defenders on the court. By adding another defender, we were forced to run the offense through solely Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who was constantly being double-teamed.
Why was Daequan Cook not in the game? Or even Eric Maynor? Cook would have been the smarter decision for matchup purposes, but both would have provided an extra scorer on the offensive end.
They would have made Dallas work harder. Dallas was leaving Westbrook open beyond the arc. The same goes for Sefolosha. Cook would have made another defender at least stay home to guard him.
This is just one example of a coaching error Brooks made during the game, it just turned out to be the most crucial.
With their season on the line in Game 5, an emotionally devastated Thunder team has to play with the same aggression they did for 43 of the 48 minutes in Game 4.
Sadly, I'm not sure they'll be able to.
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