During the regular season, Thunder coach Scott Brooks will stick to his substitution pattern through thick and thin. He tries to keep the same concept in the playoffs, if at all possible.
Not so in his team's 103-100 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 on Saturday night at Staples Center.
With the Lakers' 7-foot frontcourt of Andrew Bynum (42:57) and Pau Gasol (39:16) logging hefty minutes, Brooks had no alternative but to stick with the regulars after the reserves were outmanned and ineffective.
Kevin Durant came in at the 9:35 mark of the second quarter and never sat again. Russell Westbrook came in at the 9:15 mark of the second quarter and never sat again.
Durant played 45 minutes, 35 seconds, his most minutes in a regulation game since Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals last season against the Dallas Mavericks on May 21, 2011. Westbrook played 42 minutes, 56 seconds. Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, who is considered the Thunder's sixth starter, played 32:34.
Serge Ibaka played 33:40 and Kendrick Perkins, despite dealing with a nagging right hip muscle strain, played 32:26.
Because Durant sat for just 2:25, that means backup shooting forward Daequan Cook played just 2:25. Center Nazr Mohammed played 4:03, committed three fouls and surrendered six points to Bynum. Derek Fisher played 15:28 and Nick Collison played 12:10.
Were Saturday's substitutions because of the Lakers' size, or because the Thunder's bench suddenly is shrinking?
“It was a combination of both,” Brooks said Sunday. “DC, he gives us a spark when we feel like we need a shot in the arm with a 3. Nazr, right now he knows that he's the fourth big, and a lot of times we don't get that fourth big in the game. They were playing Bynum and Gasol forty-something minutes the last couple games. Guys just have to be ready. You never know who's going to get an opportunity.
“We went small a few times. We were just trying to find anything that would work and it seemed like nothing was really working for us. We didn't get in any offensive rhythm. Russell kept us in the game early. He kept us within striking distance throughout the game. The bigs came in and did a good job. I thought Perk's rebounding was outstanding, his defense was really good and his screen-setting was good. Without those three things, we don't win that game.”
The Thunder's charter plane from Los Angeles was scheduled to arrive around 4:15 a.m. Sunday, but instead landed an hour late after circling due to high winds in the area.
An estimated 500 fans braved the elements and the early hour to greet the team.
After sweeping Dallas in the first round, an estimated 1,500 greeted the Thunder at the airport around midnight.
Brooks and his players have grown accustomed to these welcoming committees, but Sunday caught some off-guard given the lateness (earliness?) and weather.
“This time, I was surprised,” Brooks said. “It's incredible. It's incredible the support our players receive. They're thankful. They love it. … It's fun to see. It's exciting times. … And it was late. Or is that early?”