Scott Brooks is a nice guy. You don't need those in-game, miked-up segments to know that.
A couple games ago, I was expecting him to promise KD, Russ and Co. he'd take everyone out for a snow cone if they kept playing hard.
But this is the NBA Finals, and the Thunder's encouraging, affirming coach is still a coach trying to win a championship. So he's shortened his bench.
That's basketball talk for “I'm going with stars and starters.” The all-skate portion of the program is over. Seven Miami player saw the floor Tuesday night. OKC played eight.
And in the last series, the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio, one of Oklahoma City's favorite players got the short end of the bench. Nick Collison played less than 10 minutes in three games against the Spurs. Twice he went scoreless. The Thunder won two of those three games.
But if anyone thought the Thunder's Mr. Intangibles was about to become Mr. Irrelevant, Brooks tossed out some clues to the contrary about two hours before tip.
“Nick hasn't played much the last few games, but those guys are a big part of our team,” Brooks said of his reserves. “It takes all of our guys to be successful. They just have to be ready.”
Nick Collison, as we've known for a long time out here in Big 12 Country, was born ready. Oklahoma City's 105-94 victory in the NBA Finals opener Tuesday proved that, again.
The conditions couldn't have been more perfect. A mild case of Big Stage fright got Oklahoma City off to a low-energy start. Miami went with a small lineup, featuring 6-foot-8 forward Udonis Haslem at center and the 6-8 Shane Battier at power forward.
Strategically, it worked like a charm for the Heat. On Miami's offensive end it left Serge Ibaka guarding Battier, who drew the NBA's best shot blocker farther away from the basket with each of his three first-quarter 3-pointers. On the defensive end, it allowed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to put LeBron James on Kendrick Perkins, freeing LeBron to play rover.
By halftime LeBron had four steals, Oklahoma City had four turnovers and the Thunder had a matchup problem.
So Brooks went smaller, went with the 6-10 Collison at center, and stayed with him for the most part.
Only Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha played more minutes that Collison in the second half, when the Thunder outscored Miami 58-40.
“We came out, I think we were a little tight,” Collison said. “They took away some of our energy. It didn't seem like us in the first half defensively.
“Second half, we just relaxed and played. We were more physical, more aggressive. We started getting into ball handlers. We didn't have as many breakdowns either. I just think we calmed down and were more comfortable in the second half.”
Ask any Thunder fan: Collison can have that effect on you, on a game. He played all but 29 seconds of a fourth quarter the Thunder led all the way, and the results were spectacular.
Twice he came up with key offensive rebounds on tips — the kind of tips Tyson Chandler made a career out of. Both tips produced big baskets.
The first came early in the fourth quarter, with the Thunder gaining the upper hand but the outcome far from decided.
After tipping out Durant's missed jumper to Westbrook, Collison positioned himself perfectly to set up Derek Fisher, and waved to let Westbrook and everyone else in Chesapeake Energy Arena know what should come next.
Westbrook tossed a cross-court pass to Fisher, who worked off a vintage Collison screen. When the Heat came to help, Fisher fed Sefolosha for a layup. Thunder 78-73.
Later in the fourth, Collison tipped out another miss to Durant for one of his patented step-in 3-pointers and the Thunder led 87-81.
In between those tips, Collison had a steal to trigger Durant's breakaway dunk.
His final line: eight points on 4-of-5-shooting — three dunks and a tip-in. Of his 10 rebounds, five were offensive. All in all, those stats don't blow you away, unless you saw how it all added up.
“We've got to continue to give him confidence by feeding him down low on those dump-off passes for dunks,” Durant said, “and he's going to come back down and give it his all on the defensive end.
“We need that from everybody.”
Especially from Nick Collison.