DENVER — George Karl entered these NBA playoffs having won 74 games in postseason play during his illustrious coaching career.
Looks like he will leave these playoffs with the exact same number of wins.
His Nuggets face elimination Monday in Game 4, and even though Karl has pulled every string possible and pushed every button imaginable, nothing has worked in this series. Not calling the Thunder cocky. Not throwing every available body possible at Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Not playing the woe-is-me card after a blown goaltending call in Game 1. Not professing confidence that returning to Denver would remedy all ills after Game 2.
I guess someone's got to provide playoff tomfoolery once Phil Jackson retires.
Scott Brooks isn't auditioning for that gig. What Mr. Straight-and-Narrow is doing is getting the better of this coaching matchup.
“He's been real consistent with his message all year,” Thunder veteran Nick Collison said. “You can probably tell by how we talk to the media — we're always saying the same things over and over again — but it's what's preached to us every day.
“I think that consistency's big.”
It has been huge during this playoff series. The Thunder didn't panic when the Nuggets jumped to a big lead in Game 1. Ditto for when it gave up a big lead in Game 2.
And being able to win in a hostile road environment despite not playing great basketball in Game 3? That was all about keeping your head on straight.
Sure, the Thunder had some uncharacteristic breakdowns of composure Saturday. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant picked up technical fouls, something that players not named Kendrick Perkins rarely do. Yes, the Thunder let a comfortable lead slip late in the game when J.R. Smith got hot.
But let's remember — for the youngest team in these playoffs to score a postseason road win when everything didn't go its way, that took some commendable composure.
That flows directly from the head coach.
“I just think it's always important to be consistent with guys,” Brooks said. “I know when I played, I always wanted that from my coaches.”
Brooks is so dogged on consistency that it goes all the way to his wardrobe. Before every home game, he wears the same warm-up with a “Training Camp 2010” logo on it.
A couple weeks ago, Brooks looked like he might break out in hives as he talked about Karl showing up in all sorts of different outfits when he was an assistant in Denver. One day, he might wear a Nuggets top. Another day, he might wear a hat backward.
Oh, the horror.
The thing is, despite his disposition toward the repetitive, Brooks isn't such a stick in the mud that he refuses to change. If he did, the Thunder wouldn't be where it is.
His decision to switch James Harden to guard J.R. Smith late in Game 3, for example, paid huge dividends when the Thunder reserve made a straight-up, no-foul play on the Nuggets' sharpshooter at the buzzer.
Winning in the playoffs requires flexibility from the head coach.
“In a series when there's so much scouting that goes on ...,” Collison said, “he's been able to do some stuff to get us some offense.”
Thunder big man Kendrick Perkins said, “Coach Brooks' thing is not to let us get comfortable, not to get bored with the process.”
Then this playoff veteran from his Boston days said something that really makes you sit up and take notice.
“One thing ... I found with Doc Rivers and now with Coach Brooks is they let their assistant coaches coach,” he said. “They're not afraid to get knowledge from other places. They put their ego aside.”
Yep, he compared Scotty Brooks to Doc Rivers.
It seems like such a crazy thing, a guy who has yet to win a playoff series as a head coach being likened to a guy who's taken his team to the NBA Finals two of the past three years. But what if Brooks is growing into one of the best young coaches in the NBA? What if he's the next Doc Rivers?
Heck, what if he's the next Gregg Popovich?
That might seem far-fetched. Then again, who thought Pop, then the Spurs' general manager, would be still be in San Antonio 15 years after naming himself head coach?
Look at what Brooks has done in just a little over two years. He has turned a 23-win team into a team on the verge of sweeping its way into the second round of the playoffs.
Sure, the Thunder has upgraded its talent during that time, but Brooks has been the right coach for this team.
Brooks admits he still has a lot to learn as a coach.
“I don't have all the answers,” he said. “My philosophy has always been, ‘Let's try to find the best answers for our team.'”
Brooks has found a bunch of them during these playoffs.
Karl? He's come up with about as many answers as victories in this series.