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Oklahoma City Thunder: Lineup changes not exclusive to Scott Brooks

by Berry Tramel Published: May 27, 2014

Scotty Brooks twice has changed his lineup this postseason, which I wrote about for the Tuesday Oklahoman. You can read that column here.

Few teams have had the starting lineup consistency that the Thunder had – from March 2011 through April 2014, Brooks never made a lineup change other than dictated by injury. But most teams stick with their lineups during a condensed period like a particular postseason.

Brooks now has twice changed. Caron Butler replaced Thabo Sefolosha for Games 6 and 7 against Memphis, then Thabo returned to the lineup for the Clipper series. Reggie Jackson replaced Thabo for Game 3 against San Antonio, and that seems to be permanent. At least for this series.

But some teams change all the time. Miami, for instance.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra started Rashard Lewis in Game 4 against Indiana on Monday night, replacing Udonis Haslem. Lewis had been mothballs for big stretches of the past couple of seasons.

And that’s nothing new for Spoelstra. In the Heat’s four-game series against Charlotte, Haslem started every game. Then the Heat got to the Brooklyn series, and Shane Battier started all five games, despite having played just 124 seconds against the Bobcats. Against Indiana, Battier started Game 1, Haslem Games 2 and 3, and now Lewis Game 4.

So while Brooks seems to be making all kinds of moves, Spoelstra has made as many lineup changes in four games against the Pacers as Brooks has made in three series.

I wrote about the politics of changing the starting lineup in my Tuesday column. Here are a few leftover points:

* While we were interviewing Reggie Jackson on Monday, most of the Thunder players had left the court. But still out there working on their games were Nick Collison and Thabo. Neither had played in Game 3 despite starting the first two games of the series.

“They’re always ready,” Jackson said. “They’re always competing, finding ways to get better, and there’s a reason that they’ve been in the league for a long time. That’s basically kind of the culture here. Everybody works. Guys go out there healthy or not, just trying to find ways to get better each and every day, whether it be coming back from an injury, nursing an injury or finding ways on the court. If you see them out here, I definitely think it’s giving way for guys like Andre (Roberson) over there to continue to work and get better, Perry (Jones) over there getting shots earlier. I think even Fish (Derek Fisher) is here, and he’s been here 19 years. Top to bottom, we just find ways to get better.”

Said Caron Butler: “What you see right now after practice, everyone staying engaged and just staying ready and knowing that at any given time, anything can happen. We made a little tweak and guys were ready, and ready for the moment.”

* I asked Brooks why the lineup changed has worked well in this postseason. The Thunder is 3-0 with Thabo on the bench, 6-7 with him starting.

“I’m not sure,” Brooks said. “Just I know we have a good team that we have to be ready to play, have confidence in all the guys. I have confidence in the different styles that we can play, big or small. You’ve got to play with five guys, and whoever we decide, I have confidence, the team has confidence. I thought Reggie gave us another attacker that could attack their weakside defenders, but I thought it was important that we needed it, and he’s really improved his three point shooting. You have to guard him. You have to guard him on the floor because they will pack the paint, they will make you play with the pass and they will make you throw to the weakside, and I thought Reggie’s ability to attack their bigs, and we have to continue to do that and move their feet and attack them as much as we can, and we have three guys on the floor that can do that at the same time.”

In other words, Brooks was willing to risk defense for a big boost in offense. And it worked. Jackson’s defense was OK. Thabo’s defense had not been anything special through two games.

“I think last night is more of who we are,” Brooks said. “Our game plan has always been a defensive mindset, and that was the case last night. We did a lot of things good defensively, but we still, watching the film and showing the guys, we still have to take another step. But it helps our offense. They go hand in hand. It helps our floor balance. It helps our spacing. But I thought our offense was good. We had too many turnovers which we have to get that down to a reasonable number, and we took a couple of bad shots that we’re going to continue to take those down, but I thought our ball movement and our ability to make shots, we still haven’t made a lot of threes, but our threes that we did get were good looks and good shots and good looks off of our offense.”

It’s not a defensive mindset when you start Jackson over Thabo. It’s an offensive mindset. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Maybe you have to outscore the Spurs. Maybe you know you have to beat them 106-97, that you can’t beat them 96-91.

* Brooks on how he told Thabo of the demotion: “I don’t want to get into what I do. I talk to all of our guys. I talk to all of our guys every day. During the games I have communication with all of our guys. Obviously you have to tell them. How I tell them, that’s between Thabo and I and the team.”

* Brooks on why Thabo and Collison didn’t even play in Game 3: “The flow of the game, the rhythm of the game. I felt that we needed a certain style of player, and we had that. Reggie did a good job of attacking and giving us an opportunity to have a different option on that weak side because we know how they like to load up on our strong side. So I thought Reggie and the team adjusted well to that.”

* Collison on the situation: “You just show up, he probably will tell you before we get started on the walkthrough. This is the five that’s out there. Everyone’s expected to handle it well. Everyone’s expected to be a pro. I don’t think every team’s like that. Every team doesn’t have mature guys, but we do. So it’s a positive.”

by Berry Tramel
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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