The Thunder’s 102-90 victory over Phoenix on Monday was a very instructive game. It told us a lot about the Thunder, which is unusual for a victory over a bad team.
But Monday night, the Thunder was without Serge Ibaka (chest bruise), which opened the door for more minutes from seldom-used players. And Scotty Brooks used the occasion to experiment.
In a game that wasn’t completely sealed until the final minute or so, Brooks used 10 players at least 61/2 minutes. He used Perry Jones III in the first half. He played Hasheem Thabeet 211/2 minutes and Nick Collison only 151/2. DeAndre Liggins played 14:14 even though Thabo Sefolosha was back in the fold.
So I had some fun with lineups. Brooks used 14 lineup combinations. And some were wild and crazy. It was a good night to examine what works and what doesn’t. Here were the lineup combinations:
Collison, Durant, Perkins, Sefolosha, Westbrook: Played 10:31, outscored Phoenix 25-22.
Durant, Martin, Perkins, Sefolosha, Westbrook: Played 9:44 and outscored Phoenix 31-19.
Durant, Jackson, Liggins, Martin, Thabeet: Played 4:48 and was outscored 9-13.
Durant, Martin, Sefolosha, Thabeet, Westbrook: Played 3:49 and outscored Phoenix 12-3.
Durant, Jackson, Jones, Martin, Thabeet: Played 3:07 and outscored Phoenix 5-2.
Durant, Liggins, Martin, Thabeet, Westbrook: Played 2:54 and was outscored 1-2.
Jackson, Jones, Liggins, Martin, Thabeet: Played 2:35 and outscored Phoenix 6-1.
Collison, Durant, Martin, Perkins, Westbrook: Played 2:28 and was outscored 2-7.
Durant, Martin, Perkins, Thabeet, Westbrook: Played 1:34 and outscored Phoenix 5-2.
Liggins, Martin, Perkins, Thabeet, Westbrook: Played 1:24 and was outscored 2-7.
Durant, Liggins, Perkins, Sefolosha, Westbrook: Played 1:17 and was outscored 3-7.
Jackson, Jones, Lamb, Liggins, Thabeet: Played 1:05 and tied 2-2.
Collison, Durant, Martin, Thabeet, Westbrook: Played 13 seconds and outscored Phoenix 2-0.
Jones, Liggins, Sefolosha, Thabeet, Westbrook: Played one second, with no score.
If you want the individual plus/minus numbers, here they are: Sefolosha +20, Westbrook +14, Martin +13, Durant +12, Thabeet +6, Perkins +4, Jones +2, Lamb even, Collison, Jackson -2 and Liggins -9.
But forget the individuals. Focus on the lineups.
If we count Perry Jones as a big man, which is how the Thunder seems to play him, then Brooks used five small-ball lineups, with Durant as the second big man. It’s been clear for some time that the small lineup is OKC’s best against Miami. But the small lineup also seems to be the Thunder’s best against most any team. And that was never more apparent than against Phoenix.
Brooks’ five small lineups played a combined 22:32 and outscored the Suns 56-41.
That’s impressive, but here’s what’s most impressive. The Thunder’s most dominating stretches came with a small lineup void of OKC’s best big men.
Most everyone agrees that Ibaka and Collison are the Thunder’s most efficient bigs. But Ibaka was sidelined, and Collison, for whatever reason, didn’t play much.
So with Perkins, or even Thabeet, as the lone big man on the court, the Thunder still excelled.
Brooks went small the final 8:10 of the first half. Durant, Westbrook, Circle K and Thabo, with first Thabeet and then Perkins. And they outscored Phoenix 26-15.
Brooks went back to what I call the serious lineup – Durant, Westbrook, Martin, Thabo and whoever – midway through the fourth quarter. And the Thunder outscored the Suns 17-7, again with first Thabeet and then Perkins filling the middle.
So in 131/2 minutes of playing Durant, Westbrook, Circle K and Thabo together, the Thunder outscored the Suns 43-22.
Wow. And that’s without Ibaka. You put Serge with that quartet, and it’s the best fivesome in basketball. Talk about a dream team.