Last Saturday night in San Antonio, Scotty Brooks had Kevin Durant start the fourth quarter. Not that unusual. Durant often plays with backups. He was joined on the court by Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher.
The Thunder had an 85-76 lead. But the Spurs scored on three straight possessions to cut their deficit to 85-82, and Brooks called timeout.
He sensed that Durant was tired. So Foreman Scotty inserted Nick Collison for Durant.
Durant to that point had played almost 33 minutes (32:56) of the game’s 37 1/2 minutes (37:36).
So in a showdown game with San Antonio, in a crucial point, Brooks went with a B Team-exclusive lineup.
And it worked. Jackson turned a steal into a dunk to make it 87-82. Lamb made a 3-pointer to make it 90-84.
At 8:41, Serge Ibaka replaced Adams, with OKC up 90-86. At 6:10, Russell Westbrook replaced Lamb, with OKC up 96-88.
And finally, at 5:15, Durant returned, replacing Fisher with the Thunder leading 98-90. Durant had sat out more than five minutes.
That’s got to be the most he’s sat out of a fourth quarter in a non-blowout, non-foul trouble game in years.
Twelve seconds later, Durant nailed a 3-pointer, and the Thunder was up 11 and would win by 13.
So Brooks’ unusual rotation worked famously.
And Durant says he enjoyed going from playmaker to cheerleader.
“I enjoy cheering for my teammates,” Durant said. “They were playing so well. They stretched the lead out.
“As a leader of this team, I think that’s the best part of being on the team, when you see everybody else do well. Makes me feel like I was the one out there making those shots, making those assists, getting those stops. I was happy for my teammates.
“Whenever coach put me in, I was just trying to come out there and contribute and stay ready. I trust coach, I trust everything he does for us. If he wants to sit me the whole game, I’d be happy clapping for my teammates.”
Well, let’s not get carried away. I don’t think Durant is too keen on sitting out games or halves or long stretches when the squad isn’t playing particularly well. But I believe Durant when he says he wasn’t overly-anxious to get back in. That he enjoyed watching the Thunder excel with him.
“That shows how good a team, a bench, we have,” Durant said. “They can come in and stretch leads for us.”
Indeed, this Thunder team appears the deepest of Brooks’ five contenders.
Durant is averaging 37.9 minutes per game. That’s his lowest figure since his rookie year in Seattle, when he averaged 34.6. That’s good news. So is Durant’s descending minutes – after a career high 39.0 minutes a game in 2009-10, Durant’s playing time has decreased every season: 38.9, 38.6, 38.5, now 37.9.
More good news. Westbrook is averaging 33.0 minutes a game, and that, too, is his lowest since his rookie year, 32.5 in 2008-09.
Keeping Durant and Westbrook fresh would seem to be a major part of Brooks’ assignment. The Thunder’s depth – Brooks is playing 11 players most nights, and the 12th man, Andre Roberson, has made four starts in Thabo Sefolosha’s absence – is making that an easier decision for Brooks.