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Oklahoma City Thunder: What is Scott Brooks' next move in this game of chess?

These Western Conference Finals so far are known not just for runaway victories by the home team in all five games but lineup changes by coaches who like to downplay their import.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 30, 2014

1. Play a small lineup with Ibaka at center. Brooks often uses a lineup with with Durant at power forward. But in the 71/2 minutes Brooks used the small lineup in Game 5, he always had Kendrick Perkins or Steven Adams in the game. But if Ibaka is the center, he would be on Tim Duncan, not chasing anyone past the 3-point line and thus positioned to better protect the paint.

Such a lineup puts some stress on Durant, who would have to deal with the burly and creative Diaw in the post, but Durant’s interior defense has shown itself to get better the longer the game goes. He’s guarded Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan for stretches of these playoffs. Don’t be scared of Boris Diaw.

Heck, such a move could have residual benefits. Durant might save some energy, not chasing a perimeter around screens for 20 seconds a possession.

2. Bring back Sefolosha from exile. Not to start, but to guard Manu Ginobili off the bench.

The Thunder is having a terrible time defending Ginobili, who absolutely torched Jackson in a 51/2-minute span of Game 5’s second quarter, with nine points on 4-of-4 shooting. That’s when the game got away from the Thunder.

When he was benched, Thabo was in a defensive slump as well as an offensive slump. I don’t know if Sefolosha can slow down Ginobili. But I’d find out.

3. Play Russell Westbrook more.

Funny, how all we hear from Brooks is that Westbrook is tireless. As fresh-legged in the fourth quarter as he is in the first. And we see nothing in Westbrook’s play to dispute that.

And yet, even before the knee injury of last spring and resting Westbrook for precautionary reasons this season, Westbrook always played less than did Durant. In big games or playoff games, Durant routinely has played 45 minutes. Westbrook often dips under 40 minutes.

I’d stop that. Play Westbrook the whole game, unless you need to remove him for instruction or to settle him down.

The Thunder bench can be spotty since Jackson began starting. The Thunder lost a comfortable first-quarter lead in Game 5 when Brooks began substituting. I don’t know if the Thunder can afford to sub much in back-to-back must-win games.

When Brooks goes to his bench, make sure Durant or Westbrook are on the court, too, and preferably both.

“A lot of times late in the series, you know each other's personalities, you know each other's game, and the Xs and Os are thrown out the window,” Brooks said. “It's about coming with sheer determination to outplay your opponent by outworking them, by outplaying them, by out‑toughing them. We have to play with toughness for 48 minutes.”

You want 48 minutes of toughness? Play Russell Westbrook for 48 minutes.

Make Gregg Popovich respond to that.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

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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