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Oklahoma City Thunder: Scott Brooks faces the biggest challenge of his career

Brooks does not want to coach the first team in NBA history to lose a series after three games to none.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 2, 2013

HOUSTON — Scotty Brooks has coached the Thunder to five playoff series victories in the last 24 months.

That's as many as Rick Adelman has produced in the last dozen years. That's as many as Mike D'Antoni has won in his career, and the Lakers were impressed enough to hand him the keys to the kingdom.

That's more than Byron Scott (four) has won in the last 11 years. More than Avery Johnson has won in his career. More than George Karl has won in 15 years.

So Brooks, 4 1/2 years into his NBA coaching career, is building quite the resume'.

But Brooks' coaching reputation is on the line as this remade Thunder-Rockets series hits the homestretch, with Game 6 Friday night at the Toyota Center and a Game 7 Sunday back in Oklahoma City should the Rockets survive. Brooks does not want to coach the first team in NBA history to lose a series after leading three games to none.

Kevin McHale, a heck of a forward in his Celtic days but innocuous in 242 regular-season games as a coach, is making all the right moves in keeping his Rockets kicking. The Rockets we saw in Game 1 12 days ago is nothing like the Rockets we saw in Game 5 Wednesday night.

The Thunder is changed, too, by Russell Westbrook's injury. The Thunder has won once without Westbrook and dang near won another, but there's been nothing easy about it.

And it's up to Brooks to do something.

He already has let his hair down. Three minutes into Game 4, Brooks inserted DeAndre Liggins, calling the defensive specialist not so much from the end of the bench as oblivion.

But that's not enough against these Rockets. Desperate teams cause for desperate measures.

McHale has taken to playing water bug point guards Patrick Beverley and Aaron Brooks together, with James Harden, who plays like a point much of the time. McHale has brought Francisco Garcia out of mothballs; a guy who played six minutes in Game 2 has become Kevin Durant's nightmare.

Here's what we've learned through five games of Thunder-Rockets. Playoff basketball is not like February basketball. In the postseason, teams grow to know and despise each other. Basketball savvy minds find every flaw in the opponent and try to expose it.

Brooks must counter. Both in strategy and in personnel.

“Everything is being considered, there's no question,” Brooks said.

That's good to know. Without Westbrook, Brooks' perimeter options are thinned. But Liggins clearly has to play more. The Thunder has got to stop the Rocket launchers, and you stop them by turning back the penetrators. Liggins helps mightily on Chandler Parsons and Harden.

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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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