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NBA Finals: Time for the Thunder to go small

Berry Tramel: Miami's shooter-heavy lineup causes matchup problems for the Thunder. Going small will help counter that.
by Berry Tramel Published: June 15, 2012

The Thunder keeps wanting to talk about its horrendous starts in the NBA Finals.

Game 1: Down 27-16 with two minutes left in the first quarter, down 39-26 with eight minutes left in the half.

Game 2: Down 18-2 after 7½ minutes, down 51-34 with two minutes left in the first half.

But the rest of us keep wanting to talk about lineups. Using only one post player. Which post player to use.

As the series moves to Miami tied 1-1, maybe the two focuses aren't mutually exclusive. It seems clear that one reason the Thunder is digging such a quick hole is because Scotty Brooks is sticking too long with a big lineup that seems clearly ineffective.

Miami has fully committed to playing without a center. The Heat is using Chris Bosh or Udonis Haslem at power forward, but rarely are both on the court at the same time. Miami has played with only one post player 25 percent of the Finals' 96 minutes.

Brooks has countered, but not enough. Not soon enough or totally enough.

“Small ball, medium ball, big ball, that did not lose the game,” Brooks said after a 100-96 loss in Game 2 Thursday night. “Toughness lost the game. We didn't come out with the toughness that we need to come out with. We're an aggressive team, we're a physical team. Defensive mindset was not where it needs to be, and hopefully we can change that going into Game 3.”

Actually, the Thunder's defense was decent at the outset of Game 2. The Heat opened the game by making just five of 14 shots, yet led 13-2.

The script of Game 1 repeated in Game 2. The Thunder went small and rallied back.

Through two games, the Thunder's small lineup has outscored the Heat 127-103. Using only one of the trio of Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins or Nick Collison, the Thunder is not mashed on the boards or vulnerable inside. Going small often leaves teams susceptible defensively. Not against Miami.

And the Thunder's small lineups have worked in a variety of ways.

In Game 1, the small Thunder lineup thrashed the Heat's big lineup 29-16 and edged the Heat's small lineup 25-24. But in Game 2, the small OKC lineup beat the small Miami lineup 58-48 while staging a 15-15 tie with the big Miami lineup.

Of course, you can't go overboard. After two games of the Western Conference Finals, it looked like the Thunder would have to go small to keep up with the Spurs. Instead, Brooks stuck largely with his big lineup, and the Thunder won four straight.

“San Antonio had a small lineup,” James Harden said. “It's about us playing hard and not getting off to a slow start. If we did that, we would put ourselves in a better position to win a basketball game.”

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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