Things change in Thunderville. Russell Westbrook sits out, Russell Westbrook comes back. Kevin Martin comes aboard, Kevin Martin ships out. Hasheem Thabeet is the backup center, Steven Adams is the backup center.
But this never changes. Scotty Brooks is slow to go to a small lineup. And when he does, it almost always works.
Same Sunday night against Phoenix, when the overmatched Suns threatened to beat the Thunder via quality 3-point shooting. The Suns started Channing Frey at power forward and spent a good portion of the game playing hybrids like the Morris twins.
And Brooks responded at times. Just not as quickly as maybe you’d like. Brooks no doubt is still experimenting with rotations and what not. NBA coaches in November aren’t always making every decision based on immediate game strategy.
But Brooks has a history of being slow to go to a one-big lineup, which usually employs Kevin Durant at power forward with three perimeter players.
It’s a potent offensive lineup, and it’s often the necessary move defensively, since it keeps Serge Ibaka or Nick Collison running around, trying to defend the 3-point line.
So how did the small lineup fare Sunday night? Even better than usual. The big lineup, featuring some combination of two big men — Kendrick Perkins, Collison, Ibaka and Adams — was on the court for more than 22 minutes. And was outscored 45-52.
The small lineup was on the court for 251/2 minutes. And outscored Phoenix 58-44.
The Thunder needs more small ball.
Now, to offer Brooks some praise, he’s gone to a full B Team, which was quite popular two and three years ago, when James Harden was out there to carry the scoring load. For the second time in three games, Brooks went total reserves at times, and it worked out quite well.
In the first quarter, with OKC trailing 19-15, Brooks went with a lineup of Collison, Derek Fisher, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones. And he stayed with it for four minutes six seconds. And during that 4:06, the Thunder outscored Phoenix 12-8 during that time. That’s pretty good offense. Before the B Team’s full baptism, OKC had 15 points in 101/2 minutes, on six-of-15 shooting. In those four minutes with the B Team, the Thunder made its first five shots — three straight by Reggie Jackson, all in the lane; a 13-foot jumper by Collison and a 16-footer by Fisher.
Brooks sent out the B Team — Collison, Fisher, Lamb, Jackson and Jones — to start the fourth quarter, and that was a precarious point in the game. The Thunder trailed 70-67. Brooks stuck with that quintet for 4:12; Durant and Westbrook returned with 7:48 left in the game, and the Suns up 76-73. So the B Team played to a 6-6 tie during that spree.
The Thunder had six possessions. Collison and Jackson committed turnovers, and Jackson missed a 3-pointer. But Jones — who actually showed a pulse, perhaps for the first time in his NBA career — hit a nifty 14-footer, and Lamb scored on running jumpers. Lamb and Jackson both showed more aggression when Durant and Westbrook were on the bench.
So let’s review. Brooks played a full B Team 8:18 of the game. And it outscored Phoenix 18-14 during that time.
Let’s not pretend the B Team was playing against an all-star team. The first time, Phoenix used a lineup of Marcus Morris, Gerald Green, Markieff Morris, Viacheslav Kravtsov and Goran Dragic. The second time, the Suns had Green, the Morris twins, Eric Bledsoe and Dionte Christmas. So really, the Suns had a B Team except for a quality point guard — Dragic or Bledsoe.
Still, impressive. It’s not a sign that the Thunder is loaded on the bench. But it is a sign that Brooks can give his starters a rest for a few moments and have a degree of comfort that the B Team can hold the fort.