From a basketball standpoint, Ibaka has hurt the Thunder at the start of games more than he’s helped in the last two games. He’s been unable to punish the Rockets inside with rebounds, shot-blocking or paint points. Despite playing all but 1 1/2 minutes of the past two opening quarters, Ibaka has scored only 10 points with five rebounds and three blocked shots. Meanwhile, he’s been forced to defend on the perimeter. Thanks to the Thunder’s non-stop switching, Ibaka has found himself on everyone from James Harden to Chandler Parsons to Francisco Garcia. It’s been a losing recipe, similar to what we witnessed last June, when Ibaka irrationally was chasing around Shane Battier on the perimeter in the Finals. It’s no coincidence that Garcia and Parsons have combined to score 25 points on 7-for-13 shooting from 3-point range in the last two first quarters.
Liggins is the linchpin or, at the very least, the lesser of all evils.
The Thunder needs Liggins’ athleticism and defensive disposition on the perimeter. He showed Monday in Game 4 and again in Game 5 that he can defend Harden and Parsons and Beverley and Aaron Brooks. With Liggins, the Thunder has a better chance of matching up in transition while also having the potential to be more effective on switches.
Tramel, aka coach Kalamian, agreed with the idea. He just wasn’t sure about an all-out change. Our shotgun-riding assistant felt that a change was needed but perhaps there was a way to implement it without stepping on toes. Tramel said playing small more is absolutely necessary but floated the idea of keeping the starting lineup intact but subbing Perk out earlier. Brooks, or in this case Rohde, seemed intrigued but not sold.
That’s when I pointed out the start of the last four halves and offered a reminder of the perils of sticking with the status quo. Those first few minutes of each half have proven to be most critical. That’s when the Thunder has truly gotten blitzed, having been outscored 49-23 over the first five minutes of each of the last four halves. Even a three-minute stint of the same ol’, same ol’ is too risky.
Brooks (Rohde) nodded in agreement. Then he conceded.
He told me he’s not arguing against my logic and that it makes all the sense in the world.
But it’s not happening, he said.
As I sat back, dejectedly slumping deeper into my roomy backseat, a strange feeling washed over me.
Within seconds, it hit me.
This must be what it feels like to be Mo Cheeks.