And in these conference finals when the Thunder trailed the Spurs.
Yet every time that the Thunder has rallied — it heads back to San Antonio on Thursday night with a chance to put a stranglehold on this series — every iota of the credit is given to the players. The narrative goes that the Thunder turns it around because of its superior talent. Kevin Durant and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are just that good.
Question to everyone who espouses that belief: who developed those guys’ talent?
Yes, all of those players are extremely gifted, but each of them is way better now than when they entered the league. That’s not because of magic. That’s because of a system that develops players as well as any team in the league.
It’s a system overseen by Scott Brooks.
“He’s one of those coaches … that loves to see the progression of players and enjoys coaching,” Durant said.
Durant recognizes that the basketball world doesn’t give Brooks enough credit for what he does. He said as much in his MVP acceptance speech a few weeks back.
“I never met anybody like you, so selfless,” Durant said then. “You don’t take the credit for nothing, even though you deserve all of it.”
All of it? Maybe not.
But more than he gets? Absolutely.
Just look at these past couple games. Everyone is pointing to the return of Ibaka as the reason that the Thunder has turned around this series. Largely ignored is Brooks’ decision to bench Sefolosha and replace him with Jackson. That move has helped spread the floor on the offensive end, creating more space for Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka while giving the Spurs another facilitator for whom they have to account.
And that lineup has been spectacular, whether you judge with advanced analytics (150.4 points per 100 possessions in that first game together) or with the eye test.
Brooks is getting almost no credit for that lineup switch, though. If anything, people are saying, “What took you so long?”
It has to be a little maddening for Brooks, who reads at least some of what is written about his team. Everyone wants him to bench Perk. Or try Perry Jones. Or corral Westbrook. Or start Jeremy Lamb.
Only recently has Brooks started to show signs that some of that might be getting to him. No longer does he have the dad-down-the-street persona, wearing a wrist full of friendship bracelets and seeming way more likely to offer orange slices than criticism to his team.
He even tried to smooth things over Wednesday afternoon over his comment about not wanting to get ridiculed for a lineup change, insisting it was a joke.
“That was my bad sense of humor,” he said. “It’s a little dry at times. That was a joke. For those of you that didn’t think that was a joke, I’m sorry for you guys.”
Joke or not, Dr. Feel Good has an edge to him.
“It’s the playoffs,” he said. “We are fighting for something special, and we feel that we have a great opportunity. If it’s coming across as edgy … ”
No apologies offered.
No apologies needed.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.