DALLAS — Less than two hours before one of the biggest games of his coaching career, Scott Brooks was horsing around in the bowels of the American Airlines Center.
The Thunder coach spied an old friend coming down the hall and playfully raised both fists like he was ready to fight.
His would-be sparing partner?
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.
Sure, they're former teammates and roommates. Yes, they consider each other friends. But still, how often do you see a war of words like these two had earlier in this Western Conference playoff series end with a bit of shadowboxing?
It just doesn't happen.
Then again, there aren't many coaches as comfortable in their own skin as Brooks.
“There's no ego. There's no mind games. There's nothing ever extra,” Thunder veteran Nick Collison said. “It's just straight forward — the way we're going to improve is to do our work every day — and that's what's always been consistent.
“It's nice to play for a guy where it's not about him.”
And Brooks has remained focused on the team and the process of building a champion even though he isn't assured a job after this season. He is a free agent. He is under contract with the Thunder only through the end of this season.
To this point, there's been no indication that the Thunder plans to have anyone other than Brooks coaching the team for the foreseeable future. General manager Sam Presti always speaks highly of the coach and even broke his own policy of not talking about pending contract negotiations when the subject of Brooks' deal came up earlier this season.
“We hope he remains with the organization for many years to come,” Presti said then.
No reason to think that philosophy has changed. The Thunder won a second consecutive Northwest Division title, snagged the No. 2 seed in the West and emerged as a team capable of winning an NBA championship.
But I promise you, Brooks did nothing but help his cause with that big win Thursday night.
Before Game 3, this Thunder-Mavs series had the look of a drawn-out, hard-fought slugfest. The Thunder had won the first two games on home hardwood by a combined four points, and the Mavs seemed sure to defend their home court.
Instead, the Thunder dominated, leading from start to finish. The Thunder is now on the verge of a sweep. At worst, this series looks like it'll last five games.
Just think how different the series would feel if the Mavs had done to the Thunder what it did to them in Game 3.