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Carlson: Coach Brooks, how about some strategy advice from press row?

by Jenni Carlson Published: May 22, 2011

You can set your watch by Scott Brooks.

The Thunder coach is as consistent as Old Faithful. He makes substitutions at virtually the same time every game. He goes by a preordained pattern that players know so well that they can sub in without Brooks saying a word.

Imagine the surprise, then, when Mr. Consistency went way off script not once but twice in these Western Conference Finals.

First came reserve guard Nate Robinson's appearance in Game 1. Then came the B Team plus Kevin Durant playing almost the entire fourth quarter of Game 2.

Even though Brooks is batting .500 in the unexpected-moves department, I say that he should embrace this new daring.

Change the starting lineup.

On a night when Oklahoma City must win Game 4 at home and square this best-of-7 series before it shifts back to Dallas, the Thunder just has to have a great start. It has started slow in every game of the series. Even though Saturday was worst of all, the Thunder has held a first-quarter lead for less than seven minutes combined in the first three games.

The largest first-quarter deficits it has faced?

Six points in Game 1.

Ten points in Game 2.

Seventeen points in Game 3.

Sure, the Thunder made all three of those games close in the end, even won the middle one, but just think where this team might be had it not been down so much so early in those other two games.

Worst of all was that poor start Saturday night on home hardwood. The effort was poor. The offense was off. The defense was lax.

“I don't really have an answer for why we played so bad,” Thunder glue guy Nick Collison said. “It's disappointing, a blown opportunity for sure.

“I would hope that desperation now will set in and that'll be what we need.”

No doubt that will help, but why not try a change in the starting lineup?

Any plan for that?

“Uhhhh, no,” Brooks said sounding very much like Memphis coach Lionel Hollins the day before he surprisingly inserted O.J. Mayo into the starting lineup against Oklahoma City. “No.”

Mr. Consistency smiled a bit.

“Why?” he said. “What do you have in mind?”

Glad you asked, Coach. I'd start James Harden instead of Thabo Sefolosha. The Swiss Stopper is a defensive star, but it has been Oklahoma City's offense that has been the biggest problem in these slow starts against Dallas.

Honestly, it has been a problem in some other poor beginnings during these playoffs. The Thunder managed only 10 points in the first seven-plus minutes of its playoff opener against Denver. It mustered only three points in almost five minutes at the start of Game 2 against Memphis and only four points in the first seven-plus minutes at the beginning of Game 5 against the Grizzlies.

All three of those games ended in Oklahoma City victories, but the sluggish offense out of the gate came back to bite the Thunder on Saturday.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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