Time was, the Thunder starting five was an Oklahoma City institution. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha were more venerable than the B.C. Clark Christmas jingle. More dependable than Arts Festival rain. You’d sooner find sushi at Cattleman’s than one of those five on the bench.
But the Thunder playoff run of 2014 turned serious weeks ago. Scotty Brooks started Caron Butler in place of Thabo Sefolosha for must-win Games 6 and 7 of the Memphis series, then Foreman Scotty started Reggie Jackson for Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
Both moves worked out famously. The Thunder swept those final two games from the Grizzlies and popped the Spurs on Sunday night.
Not pleasant moves to make. But moves that had to be made.
The Thunder is growing up as a team. The Boomers no longer are the whiz kids of 2012, a team of 23- and 22-year-olds storming to the NBA Finals. The Thunder coach has grown up, too. That’s what adulthood is all about. Making tough decisions.
“Yeah, it's a major decision,” Brooks admitted. “We've been successful. I get knocked as a coach that we don't make changes … we've won a lot of games doing that. But there’s times that we have to change in a series. I think our guys have adjusted well the last two times we've done it. We might have to do it again.”
It’s fair to knock Brooks for failure to change in the 2012 Finals, when Perkins averaged 23.2 minutes a game even though Miami offered no one for the defensive specialist to guard. Back then, Brooks wouldn’t budge come Heat or high water.
Two years later, the Thunder is a little more hard-wired. A little more edgy. A little more streetwise on the ups and downs of NBA contention. Nothing is assured. Nothing is guaranteed.
So if Thabo, who was so valuable in raising the Thunder from bad to good with his arrival in February 2009, or Perk, who was the same in raising the Thunder from good to great with his arrival two years later, have to be demoted, so be it.
Nick Collison, an original Thunder, said Brooks has “got a really good feel what everybody can do out there. We’ve had a lot of continuity here. He’s had Reggie for three years. Myself for six, seven. Thabo for six. He’s making moves because he feels like he can plug guys in.
“Plus he’s got faith that we’re a mature group, and guys can handle it. If they get sat, they get sat. They understand he’s doing what he thinks is best to win.”
Thabo went from starting to not even playing against Memphis – two straight games without getting off the bench. Then Sefolosha started all six games against the Clippers. So despite another DID NOT PLAY-coaches decision Sunday night, don’t write off Thabo. He could return.