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Tag:Scott Brooks
Posted on: January 8, 2012 10:37 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 10:40 pm
 

Oklahoma City is getting an early mental test

Posted by Royce Young



OKLAHOMA CITY -- Three nights, three wins.

That's what the Thunder accomplished with an easy 108-96 win over the Spurs Sunday, but there was a little deeper meaning to it. It wasn't just a win over a team Oklahoma City had lost six consecutive games to. It was a testing ground for something the Thunder haven't had to deal with since their rise as a Western contender -- a major injury to a key rotation player.

A night after losing backup point guard Eric Maynor to a season-ending ACL tear, the Thunder were left to find a new answer behind All-Star Russell Westbrook. Would it be Royal Ivey, the steady veteran? Just more minutes for Westbrook? Moving super sixth man James Harden for some time out front?

Or just hand the keys to a rookie taken in last June's draft? As it is in Oklahoma City, next man up.

Reggie Jackson -- yes, Reggie Jackson, real name -- stepped in for Maynor in a big way scoring 11 points and dishing out four assists. Head coach Scott Brooks didn't baby him along either. Jackson came in right at the time Maynor normally does and played Maynor's usual fill of minutes. And in those nine minutes spanning the end of the first quarter to the middle of the second, the Thunder were a plus-10 on the Spurs.

“I thought he did well,” Brooks said. “I thought he did a really good job of picking his spots and running the team.”

Said Harden: "[Jackson] was very good. He's got a long way to go but he made all the right plays, made shots and got into the lane. Over time, he'll get better and he'll get a feel for the game."

Some of you might be thinking, "So what, a backup point guard? Call me when Kevin Durant gets hurt." Thing is, the Thunder's bench has become one of its most valued weapons. With Harden, plus-minus machine Nick Collison and Maynor, the Thunder had at least one of the top three second units in basketball. That time during the early second quarter and early fourth when both teams have most of their benches in were times the Thunder could really take control of games.

So without a major part of that group, it was a legit question to wonder if the Thunder had lost a potential championship piece. And they still might have, but the early returns on Westbrook's backup's backup were very good. Jackson played under control, played confident and played smooth. It's one game and the key to any backup point man is consistency, especially when you're doing it behind someone as erratic as Westbrook. But Jackson made a strong case for claiming that role for at least the rest of this year.

For a young group like the Thunder though, part of the question with a loss like Maynor was the psyche of the team. They battled back Saturday night after Maynor left the game against Houston and won on the road. But how would they respond on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back sans one of their closest friends? The players were clearly shaken when Maynor had to be literally carried off the floor by Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

"The whole season is now for Eric," Harden said. "It's a tough loss. We were all sad. We got to spend some time with him last night at his house just giving some comfort and showing him how much we care."

But injuries happen and you have to move on. Not an easy thing to do, but maybe playing a third game in three nights was a good thing for this young group. Instead of dwelling on what happened to their buddy, the Thunder just got to pick up the pieces, stop thinking and play ball.

You've got to be mentally tough to contend for trophies. Whether it's a media firestorm over your two stars having an alleged altercation on the bench or one of your key players being lost with an ugly injury, you have to block it all out and just keep playing. It's been an early test for the Thunder and right now, they're passing. The season isn't even a month old and the Thunder have already been through a lot. And so far, it looks like it might just be making them stronger.
Posted on: December 30, 2011 12:59 am
 

Durant steals Westbrook's thunder again

Posted by Royce Young



OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook had them chanting his name. For about three minutes, he owned Oklahoma City. Chesapeake Energy Arena was all his.

And then Kevin Durant stole his Thunder.

Durant hit a game-winning 3 at the buzzer to lift the Thunder over the Mavericks, 104-102. And while it was a big shot that kept the Thunder undefeated at 4-0, it was also something symbolic for the team.

"I just tried to shoot a good one," Durant said. "I'm just glad I made it, man. I'm glad I made it."

The young Thunder had to endure a tough day of answering questions and hearing about how their two best players reportedly hate each other (or something like that). And with Westbrook struggling again, it looked like we might be headed for another ugly night. But Westbrook bounced back, hitting three of his last four shots and scoring seven of the Thunder's last 12. His first, a breakway and-1 dunk, had the crowd calling his name.

"RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL!"

There was a reason for it. These Oklahomans aren't stupid. They know what was going on. A night before, Westbrook went 0-13 from the floor and had a reported altercation with Durant. And he was again stuck in a rut, laboring through another tough night starting 3-9. You could Westbrook was feeling it. He wasn't himself. He wasn't playing with that normal burst of energy or emotion. But the crowd lifted him.

"I've never seen in my 20 years with the NBA what the crowd did tonight," head coach Scott Brooks said. "They knew he was struggling. They watched our game last night and he struggled. When he made the layup and the free throw and the crowd started chanting his name out, that was special. This is a special place to play. I've never seen it before."

Said Westbrook:"It's amazing what these fans would do for you. I love this city, I love my teammates. I'm just thankful."

Said Durant: "The crowd was unbelievable tonight encouraging him and I think that gave him some extra push. We can only do so much. We're always on top of him encouraging but the fans for the fans to do that meant a lot and he hit some big shots ... That shows how much they follow us out there. For them to encourage him like that was beautiful to see. I'm glad he was able to carry us in the last few minutes of the fourth and lead us to a good win."

But all of that quickly became background noise because of what Durant did. With 1.4 seconds left and OKC suddenly down a point because of a Vince Carter go-ahead 3, Durant caught a pass from Thabo Sefolosha and in his beautiful, gliding way, launched a deep 3 that hit nothing but the bottom.

"He lives for shots like that," Westbrook said. "He has come a long way and I am really happy for him."

Which seems like it might be a thing Westbrook would say through gritted teeth. For a second, he was the Thunder's man. So many times last season, Westbrook carried the Thunder. And not only was he doing it against OKC's nemesis in Dallas, but he was producing quite the story. It was quite the bounce back, what, with the crowd chanting his name and such.

But like a slap in the face, he was placed right back in his role. He was humbled once again by the Thunder's alpha dog. Maybe that's going to bother him tonight when he goes to sleep, maybe not. All Westbrook would say after the game was he was happy to win. Short, and to the point, is Russell Westbrook.

Oklahoma City is still in its growing pains as a young team. The supposed tension between Westbrook and Durant made the game against Dallas something of a game within a game. How would they handle it? How would they respond? And it was against the Mavs nonetheless, a team that's been known to play with the Thunder's emotions.

With the Thunder's elevated exposure comes all the outside noise that hit the Thunder over the last 24 hours. But nothing shuts it up quite like the sound of a 25-footer swishing through the net as the horn sounds.
Posted on: December 29, 2011 7:36 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 9:15 pm
 

Durant on altercation: 'Nothing happened'

Posted by Royce Young



OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Thunder locker room is typically a pretty fun, loud place to be before games. But Thursday night, it had a much more somber, serious tone to it.

Maybe it had something to do with what happened a night before in Memphis. Or maybe, it had more to do with the story that came out after that game. Which appeared to be the case.

A day after a reported altercation on the Thunder bench against Memphis which led to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook supposedly having to be separated, the team basically did absolutely everything possible to shoot all that noise and chatter down.

Westbrook, who did not speak to the media following an 0-13 performance in a win over the Grizzlies completely blew it off.

"What happened?" he said when asked about the incident. "Oh, I don't know what you're talking about. But we got a game tonight and I'm looking forward to playing against Dallas."

Durant took a similar approach.

"I don't think nothing happened," he said. "People keep saying we had this and that happen on the sideline. Nobody seen nothing. They didn't hear anything. Somebody said that something happened. Everybody on the bench was yelling, the coaches were yelling, not at each other in a bad way but trying to get everything in order. We gave up a few points in that possession so we were trying to get back in order. We were playing a good game and slacked off a little bit for two or three minutes so everybody was yelling.

Reportedly the incident occurred with about three minutes left in the second quarter when Westbrook passed the ball to an open Thabo Sefolosha who didn't take a 3. Westbrook loudly yelled "Shoot the f------ ball!" which evidently led to Westbrook raging on the bench during the next timeout. Kendrick Perkins stepped in to try and calm Westbrook down and then Durant did, which reportedly escalated things.

"It wasn't just myself or Russell or Perk. It was everybody," Durant said. "It was nothing that people should be blowing out of proportion. It happens every single day. Teams go through emotions, things happen. It's a competitive sport man, everybody's not always going to come in and be happy.

"I think you guys should just let it go man. I know you guys like conflict but you should just let it go."

Westbrook's mood was extremely reserved as he was clearly annoyed at the line of questioning he was met with before the game. Durant had a similar tone, but was at least willing to expound on the situation a bit. But it was certainly a different atmosphere than normal before a Thunder game. Maybe that had something to do with the world champion Mavericks being in town, but maybe not.

Westbrook said at the end of last season that he wanted to do a better job controlling his emotions and temper. I asked how he felt he was doing with that this season.

"Okay. I could definitely do better," he said. "But it's early in the year. We're winning. So everything's good."

Head coach Scott Brooks did his best to just pass this off as just the life of an NBA team.

"If you don't have disagreements, that means your team isn't very good," he said. "The game before that I got into a heated debate against our bigs. They weren't doing a good job in pick-and-roll defense. I think it's debate. To me an altercation is a fight or a shove or something like that. A discussion is different than an altercation but that did not happen.

"I've been coaching these guys for four years and we haven't had one fight, which surprises me," Brooks said. "We haven't had any issues that were below the belt where I had to step in."
Posted on: September 18, 2011 2:40 pm
 

Kendrick Perkins clashed with Russell Westbrook?

Posted by Royce Young

A lot was made of the supposed bubbling conflict on the tight-knit Thunder last season. Everyone got all huffy when Russell Westbrook took a bunch of shots and kind of just assumed that it made Kevin Durant real mad.

But the Thunder's well-known chemistry was put to the test well before that. Not only did the trade that sent Jeff Green to Boston for Kendrick Perkins send one of their closest friends to another team -- Green called his fellow Thunder players his brothers -- but evidently there were a few hiccups with Perk when he got to town too. Via the New York Daily News, which admittedly, is a pretty weird source for this, but here it is:

As much as coach Scott Brooks chafes at GM Sam Presti’s meddling, his presence in the locker room, and his demands that the Thunder continue to improve from within, the organization is a lot more concerned with how Kendrick Perkins treats Russell Westbrook.

After arriving from the Celtics last season and being looked at as the veteran leader Oklahoma City needed to take the next step to compete for a title, Perkins went hard at Westbrook with his verbal criticisms, often saying that the Thunder’s playmaker couldn’t match Rajon Rondo as a playmaker. Those words didn’t sit well with Westbrook, who already had been criticized for shooting too much and was the subject of a benching heard-round-the-NBA when the Thunder played the Mavs in June.

(The writer, Mitch Lawrence, was also the one who reported that a Thunder veteran said that Westbrook thinks he's better than Durant. Also, I guess he's got someone telling him about a little friction between the Thunder's front office and Scott Brooks. I don't really know how accurate that is, but that's twice it's been mentioned.)

There's no doubt Perkins let people hear his voice early and often when he got to Oklahoma City. Everyone talked about what a vocal leader he was as soon as he stepped off the plane and that he led by keeping everyone accountable. A lot of players appreciated that approach, most notably Serge Ibaka who blossomed alongside Perkins.

But Westbrook, as he admits himself, is an emotional player that has a chip so big on his shoulder that it's more like a chunk. So when (or if) the new guy comes strolling in with his big mean scowl and starts barking at him over a turnover, I'm sure he wasn't a fan. I remember a game early on where Perk was talking to Westbrook on the bench during a timeout and Westbrook very clearly tuned him out. There was another time where I remember Westbrook responding and there was a mini-argument on the bench.

Is it a big deal? Not really, as long as you win. Chemistry is a great thing and the Thunder had it as well as anyone with Jeff Green. But that wasn't enough for the Thunder to win. They needed that big presence in the middle. They needed the defensive accountability that Perk brought. If that means they don't always get along, so be it. Sometimes you don't like your teammates. Sometimes you really don't like your teammates. You think Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant have always gotten along? What matters most is playing well and winning together.

Now what you run the risk of is when things start going bad and the team starts losing, that little tiff can turn into a time bomb that blows up in everyone's face. When you have a locker room that's not getting along, a team can survive as long as it's playing well. When it doesn't, then fingers start getting point and people start getting angry. Of course that would be if there is an actual upset of feelings within the Thunder with Westbrook and Perk. It's very likely this is nothing more than just a little misunderstanding. I never personally saw anything that would make me think that the team -- or Westbrook and Perk specifically -- weren't getting along.

A concerning trend could be starting up though. Perk seems to be popular with everyone and if he's clashing with Westbrook combined with all the other noise, it could just be another issue with the hot-headed point guard. Hard not to notice that Westbrook often seems to be on an island while everyone else is pretty tight knit on and off the court. Then again, we don't see everything.

I guess it's just one more thing to talk about with the Thunder though. So be it.
Posted on: May 15, 2011 7:41 pm
Edited on: May 16, 2011 6:01 am
 

Series Grades: Thunder down Grizzlies in 7

Grading an epic series between the Thunder and Grizzlies.

Posted by Matt Moore



Here are grades for the grueling seven-game series between the Thunder and Grizzlies that brought us the hero James Harden, a grueling triple-overtime, and the continuing legends of Zach Randolph and Kevin Durant.


Oklahoma City Thunder


Kevin Durant: An up-and-down series for the scoring champ. When he was good, he was superb. When he was bad, his team was sunk. Durant had a few bad games in this series and that went a long way in driving the series to seven games despite the Thunder matchup advantages. He was superb in Game 7 though, as expected, working off-ball to get his game back on track after a rough start. Durant's ability to draw fouls went a long way in this series, as the Grizzlies could seemingly do nothing defensively without collecting fouls. Throw in his leadership and you have a good series, obviously, with the win, but also one that brought questions about his ability to create space and get the ball. If Russell Westbrook caught flak for being too aggressive, Durant quietly started establishing questions about not being enough so. But again, a win is a win and Durant was a huge part of it.


Grade: B+


Russell Westbrook:  Our own Royce Young will be happy to tell you about how Westbrook wasn't any different in this series than he ever has been, and that too much of the blame was put on Westbrook for his play. But the issue with Westbrook isn't that he's not getting the ball to Durant. That's on Durant. The problem is that too often Westbrook goes to his own playbook, his own aggressivness. He forces drives that end in charges, he elects for the jumper with slashers going to the rim, he lacks the patience to reset the offense. But all of those negative things don't change the fact that the biggest reason the Thunder won this series was Russell Westbrook and his undaunted assault on the rim. Westbrook knew the Grizzlies had no option to contain him on the perimeter, and attacked relentelessly. If that was sometimes to a fault, it shouldn't outweigh how good he was in finishing and piling up easy points at the rim. Westbrook closed with a triple-double on a bad shooting night, but amassing tons of rebounds on both sides of the floor and getting teammates involved. Did Westbrook cost the Thunder two games? Probably. But they wouldn't have won the four they did without him.

Grade: A-


James Harden: James Harden had the series of his life. He's been en fuego since the trade deadline, and stepped it up in this series. If the Thunder couldn't have won without Westbrook, Harden was a close second. Knocking down 3s, driving, collecting fouls, stealing the ball, and being a distributor, which is huge, especialy when Westbrook is in hero mode. The Grizzlies had no cover for Harden. When he started to insert himself in the series, that was when it changed. 

Grade: A+


Nick Collison: They kept talking about how he's Mr. Intangibles, but Collison's production was pretty tangible. Rebounds, blocks, and missed field goals for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Collison did the job Ibaka could not, taking the Grizzlies' dominance inside away. Again, as the series progressed, he took over. The Grizzlies' biggest advantage was inside, and Collison negated it. Huge minutes from the former Jayhawk. If he can keep that up against Dirk... yeah, just kidding. But seriously, good series. 


Grade: A


Scott Brooks: Failed to get final possessions set up well. Failed to get Westbrook in line. Failed to create an offense with cohesion outside of "run fast at the rim and either score or get fouled." Failed to give Harden significant minutes over Thabo until the end. Got the win. Scott Brooks is an incredible developmental coach and defensive mind. But this series may have begun the question about whether he can be the guy, should the Thunder not win the title. But hey, win and no one will care.

Grade: C


Thunder Crowd: Phenomenal, as always. Many people questioned whether OKC's crowd would be any good when they moved from the vaunted Seattle fanbase. Instead, the Thunder crowd are showing the greatness of small market crowds who are rabid, early, and loud, every game, every minute. Standing ovation for their standing ovation.

Grade: A+


Memphis Grizzlies


Zach Randolph: Randolph had two huge games, Game 1 and Game 6, where he won the game nearly by himself. He was a monster in those games. In the others? He struggled. His inability to adjust to the officiating or create space, or find Marc Gasol when the double came hurt the Grizzlies. Randolph was the focal point of the defense and still produced, but you still walk away feeling like if he could have been a little more efficient, it would have been enough for Memphis to advance in the West. Shouldn't take away what has been an incredible postseason from him. 

Grade: B-


Mike Conley: Conley is in a rough spot with Memphis. He's relied upon to hit shots from the perimeter when no one else can, but not take too many shots. He needs to distribute, but if others aren't hitting, he has to score. He gets killed for being a defensive liability but has to guard the second best player on each team. Conley needed to be flawless for this series. He wasn't. He was average. Which isn't bad, it just wasn't enough for Memphis to overcome the mismatches.

Grade: C+


Marc Gasol: Where did the beast go? OKC was able to hammer Gasol time and time again and without getting the calls, Gasol couldn't respond. Perkins and Ibaka contributing on offense reflects badly, but more importantly the work done on the offensive glass really takes the wind out of what was his coming out party.

Grade: C


O.J. Mayo: Step on up trade partners! Mayo had a phenomenal playoff series, and was the biggest reason the Grizzlies forced this to seven games. He did fantastic work, and actually won the matchup with Harden until Game 4. If Mayo's still on the market, he's going to elicit some big offers this summer. A great comeback story for Memphis, and parallels the city and team's resilience.

Grade: A-


Lionel Hollins: Hollins had no advantages outside of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and that was slim. He faced an uphill battle these entire playoffs and took the 8th seed to a seventh game against a star studded young team after a grueling first round series against the best team in the West record-wise. He had the Grizzlies respond to a Game 5 beatdown to force Game 7 despite every reason to quit. Hollins made mistakes trusting Sam Young too much and not reigning in Tony Allen's offense. But he did a phenomenal job getting the team this far. 

Grade: A-


Game 4:
A triple-overtime thriller between two great small-market teams with young rosters, giving everything they got. We had ten great moments from it. There could have been 20 more. Arguably the best game of the playoffs. 

Grade: A+

Posted on: May 14, 2011 8:13 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2011 8:50 pm
 

Playoff Fix: Thunder, Grizzlies tangle in Game 7

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies face off in the first Game 7 of the 2010-2011 NBA Playoffs. Posted by Ben Golliver.

kevin-durant-mad

One Big Thing: More than any other series, the Thunder-Grizzlies one has been about giant swings in momentum, emotion and energy. After an exhausting triple overtime in Game 4, the Thunder ran the Grizzlies out of the building in Game 5. In Game 6, the Thunder collapsed after halftime, looking out-of-sync and lethargic as the Grizzlies put the hammer down. Game 7, then, is simply about who has more left in the tank. With home-court advantage and an edge in overall talent, that should be the Thunder. 

The X-Factor: Thunder forward Kevin Durant, the league's best and most consistent scorer, sure picked a bad night to have his worst performance of the season. His season-low 11 points in Game 6 was troubling because he appeared openly frustrated -- both by the aggressive Memphis defense he's been facing and with teammate Russell Westbrook's decision-making.

Durant was sensational in closing out the Denver Nuggets in the first round, and an approximation of that performance should be enough to send the Thunder through to the Western Conference finals. If he no-shows again, though, Oklahoma City will find itself in a situation where Westbrook feels like he has to carry the entire burden. That's never a good thing. There are no excuses in a Game 7. Coexisting with Westbrook, the harassing defense and fatigue must become non-factors. Durant is staring at a legacy-impacting game and he needs to step up. 

The Adjustment: Before Game 6, I noted that Memphis needed to get back to what it does best: force-feeding Zach Randolph. It was better for the Grizzlies to go down doing what they do well than to go down doing what they do poorly. The flip is now true for Oklahoma City. If they're going to get eliminated from these playoffs, they need to force someone (anyone!) besides Randolph to send them packing.

Oklahoma City must double Zach Randolph early and often. It doesn't have to occur on every touch but it needs to happen a lot more than it did in Game 6, when Randolph went off for 30 points and 13 rebounds in 40 minutes. Yes, Nick Collison and company have done an excellent job handling Randolph in this series and they've gone above and beyond in doing their best to neutralize him on the glass. But Memphis simply lacks the floor-spacers to make the Thunder pay for over-committing to Randolph. If nothing else, daring Mike Conley to shoot at every turn would be a significantly better strategy than letting Randolph work one-on-one. Conley has shot just 9-for-40 in the last three games combined, including just 3-12 from downtown. 

The Sticking Point: Westbrook has become a lightning rod for criticism in this series thanks to his shot-jacking (17.8 field goal attempts per game), his turnovers (3.7 per game) and the Thunder's stagnation during critical late-game stretches that has produced a lot of one-on-one play from Westbrook and a lot of standing around from Durant. In the big picture, that Westbrook has already accomplished so much so early in his career is remarkable.

But this is not the time for Westbrook's supporters to be preaching patience, lest an opportunity be lost. Despite their youth, Oklahoma City is just five wins away from the NBA Finals and, when they're clicking on offense, they have the potential to be a legit title contender right now. Game 7 should be a good window into whether Westbrook and company are happy with what they've accomplished or are motivated enough to make some adjustments (better ball movement late in games, better shot selection, a bit more care with the ball when things break down in the halfcourt) so that they can move on to the next step.
Posted on: May 14, 2011 2:03 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 2:06 am
 

Kevin Durant goes ice cold in loss to Grizzlies

Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant goes ice cold in a Game 6 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Posted by Ben Golliver.

Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant is the NBA's most prolific scorer and its most consistent. Nobody fills it up like Durant, who averaged 29.7 points on the season, and, we demonstrated earlier this season, nobody does it on a night in and night out basis quite like K.D. 

Like any elite scorer, Durant's overall impact on a game and his ability to get the ball in the hole are intertwined. When he's feeling it, things open up for his teammates and he plays defense with an extra kick in his step. When he's off, he's more likely to stand around as a passive observer of the game and to force his shots from outside. 

What we've seen from Durant in Games 5 and 6 against the Memphis Grizzlies is something he hasn't done all season: Have two "bad" scoring nights in a row.

In Game 5, Durant scored just 19 points (was still the team's leading scorer) in a Thunder blowout win, playing just 31 points. In Game 6, Durant had arguably his worst all-around offensive performance of the season, scoring a season-low 11 points and shooting 3-for-14 from the field. That tied season-lows in field goals and field goal percentage, and he attempted zero shots coming from in the paint. All in all, just terrible and very anti-Durant. 

During the 2010-2011 season (including playoffs), Durant scored less than twenty points just seven times. His ability to bounce back from those games was remarkable: In the seven games following his less than 20 point performances, Durant averaged 28.4 points and scored at least 26 points in five of them. In other words, the 30 combined points in Games 5 and 6 are by far his lowest two-game point totals of the year.

Here's a chart to emphasize the back-to-back scoring cliff Durant has fallen off. The season progresses through time from left to right.
kevin-durant-points

On Friday night, Durant obviously battled foul troubles, picking up two quick ones in the first quarter which led to an extended rest that appeared to affect his rhythm. It wasn't just the fouls, though. Durant was standing around and watching, strugging to get open and rushing his shots once he did get touches. He wasn't totally disintersted but he certainly wasn't engaged, especially as Oklahoma City crashed and burned down the stretch, scoring just 29 points as a team in the second half.

That Durant struggled for the second game in a row at the worst possible time should absolutely be concerning to Thunder fans. His excellent ability to bounce back from poor scoring performances will be badly needed during Sunday night's Game 7. Two games in a row under 20 points was, to this point, unprecedented. Three games in a row under 20 points is almost unfathomable, and it would very likely mean an early end to the Thunder's dream season.
Posted on: May 14, 2011 1:42 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 1:48 am
 

NBA Playoffs: Hollins lets Mayo out of the box

Key adjustment from Lionel Hollins helps Grizzlies force Game 7. 

Posted by Matt Moore





 Lionel Hollins has been stingy with his rotations. Despite what seems apparent from anecdotal or empirical evidence, Hollins has stuck with his guys through thick and thin. That's why Sam Young is a starter in the National Basketball Association. And it's worked forthe Grizzlies. But faced with a must-win Game 6, in the actual "must-win" sense, Hollins finally made an adjustment. He started O.J. Mayo in Young's stead. The result? 16 points and 4 steals for OJAM as the Grizzlies force a Game 7. 

Mayo's had the worst year of his career. Yanked from the starting lineup for the first time in his career, knocked out on a team flight, busted for PEDs, and was almost traded. He had every reason to dive into a bench-riding funk and bury himself on the pine. Instead, he embraced the team in the face of their post-deadline surge, working to play smarter and harder. His contributions have been considerable, but more importantly, timely in the playoffs, but his Game 6 performance was biggest. 

The Thunder were suffocating the Grizzlies slowly as this series went on. They were focused on packing the paint, bringing help, and allowing anyone but Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to get theirs. Without any Grizzlies capable of spreading the floor on the starting unit the Thunder could force misses, get out in transition, and attack the rim with Russell Westbrook. Mayo's perimeter range served two functions in Game 6. It gave the Grizzlies a legitimate perimeter shooter who gets more active and involved the more he scored, which they are severely lacking when Mayo's not zoned in, and it spread the floor which forced the Thunder to cover Zach Randolph one-on-one. 

Yeah, that didn't work out great for the Oklahoma kiddos. 

If Hollins getting out of his comfort zone and switching up his rotation was stunning, then the return to normalcy was Scott Brooks' decision not to insert James Harden into the unit starting the second half. That helped spark the Memphis comeback as it prevented a mismatch at multiple positions. The Grizzlies could live with Wetbrook attacking O.J. Mayo on the perimeter as long as it was Thabo Sefolosha being guarded by Mike Conley and not James Harden. With Harden in, there were crisp passes, competent distribution and good team play. Scott Brooks keeps adding elements to why he, like his Coach of the Year award winners before him, might have trouble down the line. The Thunder are one win away from the Conference Finals, but you still have to feel like they squandered an opportunity with a double digit lead that had the Memphis crowd out of it. 

If Game 5 proved that the Thunder simply have the talent to win this series, Game 6 proved the Grizzlies simply have the will. If this series finishes by coming down to coaching, the Thunder have to get nervous. Lionel Hollins continues to get this ragtag group to play up to and above their potential. 

Down and out, nearly traded? Just another Memphis savior as the Grizzlies force one more. 

Game 7 is Sunday. 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com