Thursday playoff preview and coaching review: Thunder head to Memphis down 3-2


Apr 14, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder head coach

Scott Brooks

against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second quarter of a game at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, DWW was fortunate enough to attend Game 5 of the Memphis-Oklahoma City series at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

It was a game that featured a bunch of missed shots and botched opportunities, but remained entertaining down to (and after) the final buzzer of overtime. And it wasn’t just the players that had a tough time; there were a number of coaching mistakes and questionable decisions as well.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks is generally ripped on a bit too much, too be sure. He’s a good coach. A bad coach wouldn’t guide a squad to as many wins (and playoff wins) as OKC has had over the past three calender years. Even with Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook.

But the Thunder have flaws, of course, and it’s Brooks’ job to help mask those flaws and put all of his players in the best possible position to succeed. Again, he is overall a good coach, and usually does a good job of this. On Tuesday evening, however, there were a series of mistakes that harmed his club.

Clock mismanagement was the biggest recurring issue for Brooks, and he was saved by Westbrook at the end of regulation. It was Memphis’ ball with 20 seconds on the game clock when Dave Joerger called a full timeout. There was a differential of mere seconds on the shot clock and game clock, and the Thunder were entirely out of timeouts. That’s right — they had exactly zero timeouts left.

Therefore, even if OKC had been able to get a stop with a missed shot and securing a defensive rebound, they would have had less than five seconds to corral said rebound and go the length of the court, just to tie the game. Never mind setting up a play that could have led to a game-winning three-pointer. It would have been a miracle to even get a clean possession.

Brooks’ superstar point guard bailed him out, however, stripping Mike Conley at the top of the key and firing through a fast break dunk to tie the game with just four seconds on the clock. Memphis couldn’t get a shot off at the buzzer after a timeout, and the game went to overtime.

This time around, Brooks did have the ability to use a timeout, but the differential was almost non-existent. Again the Thunder refused to foul, and it cost them dearly this time. With just 25 seconds remaining (if you’re a mathematician, you’ll notice that the differential between the shot clock and game clock was exactly 1 second), Tony Allen pulled down a defensive rebound after Kevin Durant’s infamous Joey Crawford-influenced miss, and the Grizzlies proceeded to whittle down the clock.

Mike Miller pulled trigger just a second too early in missing a long three-pointer, and the Thunder were awarded a 20-second timeout with less than three seconds remaining in overtime and trialing 100-99. Had they fouled, they would have been down by three points (at worst), and could have drawn up an actual play to get an open three-pointer, or even a quick two-point basket.

As it worked out, they had to have Durant hoist a double-teamed, contested, desperation three-pointer from deep on the wing, and the tip-in came after the buzzer. This particular mismanagement of the clock was absolutely brutal, and cost Brooks’ squad dearly.

The rotational issues can be explained away a bit, at least in part because of Nick Collison‘s foul trouble (5 fouls in 11 minutes) and the ineffectiveness of Thabo Sefolosha. But Joerger took advantage of the Thunder’s limited rotation by keeping Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the game together to control the glass while Brooks played small for much of the game.

Again, Brooks is generally a good coach. But his mistakes at the end of Game 5 were costly, and cannot be repeated in Memphis on Thursday night in Game 6.