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Darnell Mayberry's notebook nuggets: Scott Brooks makes a change

by Darnell Mayberry Published: January 30, 2014

I’m still stunned…

  • I didn’t think it could happen. I didn’t think anything or anyone could do it. But Scott Brooks and Kendrick Perkins did. They stole the spotlight from Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Seriously. It happened. Maybe not nationally. Maybe not in 49 other states. But in Oklahoma, where the Thunder passion runs highest, we know the significance of what happened down here in Miami on Wednesday. Brooks did something he’s done only one other time, something fans and close followers figured he ought to have done long, long ago. He switched his lineup against the Heat. He went small, matched up properly and watched his boys go to town. Because he did, one word effectively characterized this contest from the Thunder’s perspective: finally.
  • Brooks sat Perkins as the start of the second half and went with Perry Jones III in his place. It worked like a charm. After getting blitzed in the first quarter (15-2 when Perkins was in, and 22-4 in the first six minutes), the Thunder flipped the script, using the smaller, more athletic lineup to stall the Heat offense while enjoying an additional weapon on the floor offensively.

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  • “I thought to win this game that we had to make a decision to go with a smaller lineup,” Brooks explained. “It’s just this game. It’s not something that we have to do all the time.”
  • That should be music to Thunder heads’ ears. Because there’s no rule that says the Thunder has to do it all the time. But against Miami, it’s long been clear that it would most likely be OKC’s best chance at winning. But it never happened. Not until tonight.
  • “It’s a better matchup, I guess,” Durant said. “Perry came in and did a great job of just giving us that length on defense and being aggressive on the offensive end…It’s going to be games where guys are going to play more minutes and games where guys are going to have to sacrifice a little bit. And that’s what we did. Guys sacrificed in that second half…and we got a good win.”
  • A great win.
  • Don’t underestimate the significance of this win. Miami owned the Thunder. Had won six straight prior to tonight. The Heat’s dominance against the Thunder was becoming mental, if it wasn’t already. But blasting the Heat on their home floor, while playing their own game, and playing it without Russell Westbrook, knocked an enormous monkey off OKC’s back.
  • And it’s not just that. The way the Thunder did it now gives Miami a multitude of dilemmas. It became clear that they no longer have an answer for Durant simply with the supreme talents of LeBron, and, equally important, they have little to no advantage when the Thunder trots out a small squad. A younger, longer, more athletic small squad, mind you.
  • I posed the question on Twitter at halftime. Would Scotty change his starting lineup for the second half? Most hoped he would but figured he wouldn’t. Count me among that contingent. And, again, I’m stunned, I say. But not just because Brooks actually did it. Also because of the timing. He easily could have let this game play out and be content win or lose with the second-quarter comeback and the reality that Russ wasn’t around. He could have held onto his trump card, kept it in his back pocket and pulled it out in a potential Finals matchup. I’m stunned he didn’t. But, again, the Thunder, at some point, needed to shake this monkey. And because it did tonight, the way it did it tonight, that trump card might be even stronger if necessary in June.
  • More from Durant on the move: “That was a big adjustment for us. “That’s probably the second time we ever did that. But he had to do what was best for the team.”
  • Brooks: “Perk brings so much to us. We won the game and the guys understand that. It’s not about what I did. It’s about how we played as a collective group. We’ve got a bunch of guys that is always about the team. Tonight was a clear and prime example of that.”
  • Nick Collison: “I wasn’t too surprised. I thought that might be a possibility. Miami plays a lot different than most teams in the league. So I think he just thought it gave us a better chance to win. It’s not too big of a deal. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play. We’ve been saying that all year. And guys are getting an opportunity.”
  • That’s one thing you’ve really got to appreciate about this team. With their public comments, everyone tried their best to prop up Perk. They didn’t throw him under the bus. They didn’t leave him hanging out to dry. They made sure, every last one of them, to credit Perk, even if they didn’t say his name directly, for how he handled the situation. It’s one sign of a tight-knit team.
  • Worth noting that I didn’t see Perk after the game. I don’t know if he was in the shower or already on the bus. Your guess is as good as mine. But the reason I include this is I’m sure some are asking the natural question of how he took this (while others, no doubt, don’t care). Needless to say, I don’t know.
  • The problem with Perk against the Heat, to me, isn’t solely a Perk problem. He’s part of it. But Ibaka’s presence along with Perkins’ is really what has made the Heat a bad matchup. Neither are low-post threats in terms of traditional post scoring, so neither can take advantage of their size and bulk on the block. But that problem is exacerbated by Shane Battier sucking Ibaka away from the paint and forcing one of the league’s premier shot blockers to guard 24 feet away from the basket. So the Thunder is not just not making the Heat pay inside on offense, but it is also putting the team at risk to give up 3-pointers while losing its biggest paint and rim protector. Nothing illustrated the Thunder’s problems in this matchup like Battier covering Perkins. It showed the Heat’s total lack of respect for Perkins. And, to Miami’s credit, it worked. Perk couldn’t rebound, post up or command a double team despite having a two inch and 50-pound size advantage. So bravo, Brooks, for making a much-needed adjustment.
  • Did I mention I’m still stunned?
  • A couple of things about this win. It was the best 40 minutes of basketball the Thunder could have begged the heavens for. Believe that. I mean, a team record 16 made 3-pointers? An uncharacteristic 21 Miami turnovers? A surprising 17 second-chance points for the Thunder, all of them coming with the small ball lineup? A paltry 3-for-19 clip from 3-point range by Miami. A 20-8 discrepancy in favor of the Thunder on fast break points? Those things don’t just not happen against the Heat, they don’t happen for the Thunder. Especially not without Russ around. A lot happened in these final 40 minutes that you can throw out. That’s not taking anything, anything at all, away from how great this performance was. It’s just keeping things in perspective. This game isn’t at all indicative of how close this matchup still is and likely will continue to be.
  • The Thunder made more 3-pointers (16) than free throws (14). Go ahead and add that to the above list of outliers.
  • Derek Fisher BANKED in two 3s. C’mon now. And he gave the MJ shoulder shrug after the first one.
  • The second was straight out of the Bryce Drew/Valparaiso playbook. I don’t know if Scotty drew it up that way and they just ran it instinctively, or if it was God smiling down on the Thunder. But when Nick Collison launched a three-quarters court pass to Jones between two defenders, Jones got enough of his fingertips on it to tap it to a slashing Fish. And that’s when Fish banked in the second from deep on the left wing to beat the third quarter buzzer.
  • Fish was seriously fantastic throughout. He scored 15 points, all five of his field goals coming from beyond the 3-point arc, added three rebounds, an assist, a steal and a ton of energy and hustle plays. “I thought that Derek Fisher really did a great job with inspiring us when we got down,” Brooks said. “He made a couple of big 3s, and then everyone chipped in.” Fisher’s efforts helped the Thunder’s bench outscore Miami’s 39-21.
  • An unexpected and big-time road performance by Jeremy Lamb also helped the Thunder prevail. He hit four 3s and finished with 18 points, four assists and three rebounds off the bench. “Ball movement,” Lamb explained of the second unit’s offensive surge. “We really passed the ball and had a lot of open shots. I think that was huge. When you pass the ball like that, that’s what a shooter loves.”
  • Know who else was huge? Thabo Sefolosha. His defensive effort was tremendous. He hounded ball-handlers, was a pest in the passing lanes (six steals, one shy of matching his career high) and used his defense to help ignite the Thunder’s transition game.
  • PJ3 on getting the assignment to cover LeBron: “It made me feel good that he has that trust in me that I can guard LeBron. He could have picked anybody else, but he came and picked me because he believed that I could. And that’s exactly what I did.”
  • I loved PJ3′s length and athleticism against LeBron. I didn’t care for his inexperience and lack of strength in that matchup. But, hey, only one way to get experience, and this was a step in the right direction. I thought the Thunder stuck with PJ3 on LeBron for about a possession too long. Bron had begun to lick his chops and get hot near the end of the third. It could have been costly. It wouldn’t have mattered who switched on him at that point. But in the end, it didn’t matter.
  • The Durant-LeBron flurry at the end of the third was worth the price of admission. It’s exactly what we wanted to see, the two stars going head-to-head, matching each other shot-for-shot. They each scored eight of their respective 12 third-quarter points in that final 3 1/2 minute stretch, both wowing the crowd and keeping us on the edge of our seats. What was Durant thinking during that flurry? “Rucker Park,” he said, referring to the legendary New York City playground. “It was fun. My teammates, they just gave me the ball and told me to go and make a play. (LeBron) got hot for a quick second, and I had to come in there and make an answer. It was fun. I’m sure the fans got what they wanted to see with that one.”
  • Did they talk trash to each other during that run? “We said some slick stuff,” Durant said. “But that stays on the court. He is a tremendous competitor, and I love playing against him. It was a fun game, and I’m sure when we play again it’s going to be the same.”
  • LeBron on that stretch: “It is a fun competition. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do something like that and go at each other.”
  • Up next: at Brooklyn on Friday.

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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