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.
A dozen points in the first quarter of a game in the Western Conference Finals? That won't cut it.
Even though Harden managed only seven points on Saturday night, he's much more of an offensive threat than Sefolosha.
Brooks even said before Game 3 that there would be serious consideration given to starting Harden next season. Why not pull the trigger a little early?
In the event Brooks is worried about losing defense by substituting Harden for Sefolosha, he could really go wild and start Nick Collison instead of Serge Ibaka. In this series against the Mavs, Collison has proved to be a nightmare for Dirk Nowitzki. He has played all-world defense, and throwing him out there early might slow Nowitzki even more.
“When it's not going (well),” Brooks said, “I usually sub James in pretty quick — usually, he gets in there with six minutes to go — then we try to generate some points that way. Then, Nick comes in right after.”
Why not just start with those guys with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins — a lineup that plays together later in games regularly — and see what happens?
Brooks probably worries that a move like this could screw with the chemistry of his team, the youngest in the playoffs. After all, this is only the biggest game of the season. But you can't sit Westbrook and Co. the entire fourth quarter of a playoff game, then play the chemistry card.
This doesn't have to be a permanent change either. The starting lineup could revert to form if the Thunder makes the NBA Finals, but right now against these Mavs, a change seems feasible.
Is it bold?
Yes, especially for Mr. Consistency.
Is it daring?
You bet, but it couldn't possibly be any worse than what we saw Saturday night.
Is it maybe even a bit dangerous?
Potentially, but this team always talks about playing for each other. If that's really true, if that's not lip service, the starters who have to come off the bench won't sulk about it.
Collison, for one, is convinced that a slow start won't be an issue in Game 4.
“I just think the desperation of the series will do it,” he said. “I think we'll play better. It should be obvious to everyone how important all of these games are, and I think we'll play better.”
Brooks said: “The effort could have been better, but a lot of it was Dallas. They forced us out of our comfort zone. A lot of times that's what the game's about — forcing you to do things that you're not comfortable doing.”
Want to throw off the Mavs and take Dallas out of its comfort zone?
Pretty sure Mr. Consistency trotting out a different starting lineup would do the trick.