Thunder coach Scott Brooks admits he'll occasionally glance out of the corner of his eye and wonder what the heck his team is doing.
Not on the court, but on the bench.
“Half the time they're in front of me and I can't see the game,” Brooks jokes.
During Wednesday night's regular-season finale against Milwaukee inside Oklahoma City Arena, sneak a peek at the Thunder bench. What transpires is impossible to ignore.
In terms of enthusiasm, support and entertainment value, OKC has the best bench in the NBA. It might not even be close. No team in the league celebrates each other's success more than Thunder players.
They give standing ovations for darn near every point a teammate scores. Whether you're in uniform or street clothes, if you're on the Thunder bench, you're part of the party.
Every timeout, those who are playing are greeted halfway to the bench by those who are not.
When starters are told to take a seat, they don't actually sit. Thunder substitutes are cheered by a pair of All-Stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, even a scowling Kendrick Perkins.
“It can't be just one way,” Brooks said. “You can't have the bench support the starters and not have the starters support the bench. That's what makes this a good team. I like the camaraderie we have. It's genuine.”
Though some of the Thunder's celebratory skits might be rehearsed privately, nothing is contrived. There is no huddle before the opening tip where the bench leader says, “OK, guys. Let's be sure to support our teammates.”
This youthful enthusiasm displayed by the NBA's third-youngest roster is au naturel.
“We just want to see everybody do well,” reserve guard Eric Maynor said. “We're a team. Period.”
The bench headliner is 5-foot-9, 180-pound Nate Robinson, a reserve guard acquired in a trade with Boston on Feb. 24.
Teammates shake their heads while trying to explain Robinson's various gyrations.
“I'm confused at what he's doing,” Brooks said. “I know his 3-point routine. I haven't figured out all the other stuff he's done after makes and dunks and great passes.”
Robinson's game plan includes audience participation. “I'm just a happy person,” said Robinson, who shrugs off his antics.
Interestingly, Robinson said his bench behavior was spurred while watching women's basketball.
“Every time a girl hits a shot, one player on the bench gets up and gives everybody high-fives,” Robinson said. “I just started doing that with the 3s. We're just trying to do whatever we can to keep positive energy flowing.”
At key moments during a victory at Milwaukee on Nov. 20, three Thunder players sitting on the bench locked arms like kids often do during the NCAA Tournament.
“We were going back to those old college days,” said center Byron Mullens, who is all of 22 years old and should have just completed his junior season at Ohio State. “We were just messing around, being funny. Some of us were into it. Some of us weren't.”
Nick Collison, a cerebral celebrator, said support from the bench has its benefits. “You're locked into what's going on,” Collison said. “So when you go into the game, you can just react to what you've been seeing.”
Brooks made special mention of seventh-year reserve guard Royal Ivey, who has played in just 24 games all season and averaged 6.1 minutes.
“This is definitely the best situation I've ever been in — on the court and off the court,” Ivey said. “The camaraderie and friendships and the fact all the guys are so competitive, it's special. I'm a happy person and I try to have that kind of attitude toward everybody. Hopefully, it's contagious.”
Brooks can truly appreciate a good bench. He averaged 34.4 minutes of bench time per game in his 10-year NBA career.
“I've been on that bench for a lot of years. I know what the bench is all about,” Brooks said with a smile. “I love the way our bench responds.
“I acknowledge what they bring to our team, and I appreciate it.”
Bucks at Thunder When: 7 p.m. Wednesday Where: Oklahoma City Arena TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722) Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM THREE THINGS TO KNOW - Former Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson is a Milwaukee assistant and has been rumored as a candidate to become head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. - Serge Ibaka, who leads the NBA in total blocks (195) and is third in blocks per game (2.41), needs 14 points tonight to finish with a double-digit scoring average. - Blocked-shot leader Andrew Bogut (2.58) missed 17 games this season and is out with an elbow injury. Drew Gooden had his first career triple-double Saturday.