DALLAS — Scott Brooks went off script.
Mr. Consistency had a night at the improv.
With the Western Conference Finals and his team's playoff future hanging in the balance, the Thunder coach threw away his substitution plan. He left his bigs on the bench. He decided to play a little small ball.
Darn near worked.
The decision to go small helped Oklahoma City build a lead but in the end cost the Thunder the game.
Dallas 100, OKC 96.
On a night that the Thunder showed remarkable heart two days after a devastating meltdown, Brooks showed some guts of his own. He played to his squad's strengths even if it went against the norm. He gave his team its best chance to win even though the decision came with risks.
“I knew that in order to beat this team, we had to keep moving their feet, and we put as much quickness on the floor as possible,” Brooks said. “I thought it gave us a chance to win this game.”
Brooks went small with a little under two minutes left in the third quarter. When he took out Kendrick Perkins for Eric Maynor, he had Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison already on the floor. It was a lineup that Brooks hadn't used at all in the playoffs. It was a lineup he hadn't used in months. Westbrook and Maynor played together only a handful of times this season.
Pretty radical stuff for a coach who rarely substitutes his substitution patterns.
And Brooks stuck with it for the entire fourth quarter.
When he went small, the Thunder led by five points, and eight minutes later, the lead hadn't vanished. It had grown to seven.
“I thought the lineup gave us quickness, and it gave us a chance to really drive by them and create opportunity toward the basket,” Brooks said.
His small lineup played to two of the Thunder's biggest strengths — Westbrook and Harden. Those two guys are crazy quick, and Wednesday night, they were in attack mode.
Westbrook went to the basket on his first shot attempt and basket of the night, and he just kept after it. Didn't matter who was guarding him either. Jason Kidd. J.J. Barea. Jason Terry.
Same went for Harden. The reserve guard was as intent on getting to the rim as Westbrook was. He attempted and scored his first points on a drive.
Westbrook and Harden together terrorized the Mavs. They attacked the rim. They crashed the boards. They looked for teammates.
Westbrook: 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists.
Harden: 23 points, five rebounds, six assists.
“Trying something new,” Harden said, “it was working for us.”
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle called this game the most challenging he'd ever coached, and he pointed to Brooks' adjustments and the Thunder's attacking as the reasons why.
“It was very challenging with all the match-ups and the quickness,” he said. “We went small for awhile, too. We were having success getting shots, but we had no rim coverage and we were struggling to get rebounds.
“So we went back big and basically went with the finishing group that has been pretty much our closing team most of the year.”
Dallas big turned out to be better than Oklahoma City small.
From the time Shawn Marion entered the game and set up Carlisle's end-of-game lineup with 4:19 left, the Mavs outscored the Thunder 13-4.
It came down to some funky mismatches.
Dirk Nowitzki ended up guarding Maynor, who had to guard the savvy 18-year point guard Jason Kidd. Harden had to try to hang with Marion, who is two inches taller and about 10 pounds heavier.
The two most important plays of the game came down to those weird combinations.
With the Thunder ahead four points with three minutes left, it had a chance to extend that lead and really put the Mavs in a bad spot. But Maynor shot a 3-point attempt over the outstretched arms of the 7-foot Nowitzki. It clanged off the rim.
A minute later, the Mavs took advantage of that miss when Marion rose up and hit a little turnaround hook shot over Harden.
That swung the momentum, turning the game and ending the series.
“We just couldn't get stops,” Harden said.
No doubt Brooks' decision to improvise gave the Thunder its best chance to win, to take this series back to Oklahoma City, to play another day.
But in the end, it also gave the Mavs soft spots attack.
They went after them, and in the end, that's why Dallas is headed to the NBA Finals and Oklahoma City is headed home.