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Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Bench not the problem

by Berry Tramel Modified: June 2, 2014 at 4:00 pm •  Published: June 2, 2014

Oklahoma City's Derek Fisher (6) reacts after being called for a foul during Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals in the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps
Oklahoma City's Derek Fisher (6) reacts after being called for a foul during Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals in the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps

The Thunder bench scored five points in Game 6 against the Spurs. All by Derek Fisher. That’s an absurd total. But completely explainable.

Let’s see. Take your top scorer off the bench, place him in the starting lineup and don’t even play the guy who was demoted. Then play your starters more minutes. A lot more minutes. See what happens to your bench scoring.

That’s exactly what happened in Game 6. Reggie Jackson continued to start, Thabo Sefolosha continued to sit and Scotty Brooks shrunk the bench minutes.

Kevin Durant played 51:48. Serge Ibaka played 48:34. Reggie Jackson played 46:42. Russell Westbrook played 43:36 and would have played more if not for foul trouble.

Off the bench, Derek Fisher played 32:30 and scored five points. Steven Adams played 12:05. Jeremy Lamb played 6:12. Nick Collison played 2:13. Perry Jones played 10 seconds. Thabo played five seconds. Those five players combined for four shots. One by Adams, three by Lamb. One of Lamb’s shots was a meaningless heave at the final buzzer.

Caron Butler didn’t play.

How exactly is the Thunder bench supposed to score when Jackson starts, Butler doesn’t play and Adams and Lamb combine for three real shots?

“I hate to look at last night,” Scotty Brooks said Sunday, concerning the bench. “If you look at last night, the bench minutes weren’t the same. They rotate their bench differently. They have older veteran players, but they’re still playing good basketball.

“You look at all the great players in the playoffs, all of them have played 40 to 42 to 43 minutes. All of them. All of them in the history of the game. So, we’re different teams. That being said, I feel confident in our group moving forward.”

Look at the first two games of the series. The Thunder bench outscored the Spurs’ bench in both games, 47-43 and 43-42. The Thunder bench played more in both games. After Game 2, Jackson went into the starting lineup, and the Thunder bench minutes went down. Way down.

Here are the Thunder bench minutes in the series: 108:13, 144:34, 88:04, 83:00, 96:16 and 53:15.

“As the playoffs go, a lot of times your better players will play more minutes, and that was the case,” Brooks said. “Playing against San Antonio, we knew we had to have an extra attacker on the floor. We had to have as many two-way players on the floor. You saw in six games, this (San Antonio) team has the ability to score in bunches. We had to have the ability to put our best two-way players on the floor to be able to counter their offensive ball movement, plus we had to be able to score some points with them. So, we probably played a few guys extra minutes because of that, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have lost trust and confidence in our team. It’s just the way the playoffs and this series, in particular, have gone.”

Does the Thunder need to improve the bench? Sure. Needs to improve the starting lineup, too. And the rebounding. And the ballhandling. And the outside shooting. And the perimeter defense. And a lot of things. But the Thunder bench was solid during the season. And at times effective in the playoffs. Fisher was ageless. Jackson saved the season with 32 points off the bench in Game 4 at Memphis. Adams became a force inside. Butler was solid through two series.

A bigger problem than the bench’s playoff performance is the bench’s future. If Jackson goes into the starting lineup, is Lamb ready to become the sixth man? Will Butler return? Is Collison declining fast? Those are real issues that must be addressed.

But the bench was not a big problem in the playoffs. The Thunder isn’t constructed to produce a bunch of bench points. Especially when Jackson starts.

 

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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