The biggest mistake Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks made in the Game 1 loss to San Antonio was his decision to play “small ball.”
Instead of sticking with his normally rotation, Brooks tried to match the lineup Spurs coach Gregg Popovich went with in the fourth quarter and it totally backfired. The nine-point lead Oklahoma City took into the final quarter vanished as the Spurs — mainly using a lineup that included four guards and one center — were able to get to the basket at will and punished the Thunder in the paint.
Manu Ginobili, who scored a team-high 26 points, and Tony Parker took turns driving to the basket and the end result was a 39-point fourth quarter for the home team. The Thunder defense faltered down the stretch and Brooks knows why. He decided to sit the league’s best shot-blocker, Serge Ibaka, and went with a smaller lineup that included three guards (Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook, James Harden), one forward (Kevin Durant) and one center (Kendrick Perkins).
Brooks later admitted that keeping Ibaka, the runner-up in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year balloting, on the bench in the fourth quarter was a mistake and he’ll likely change that strategy in Game 2. He said he beat himself up over not putting his defensive ace back in the game, while explaining how sidelining Ibaka seemed the right idea at the time. After all, Brooks said keeping Ibaka out and going with a smaller lineup worked in the previous playoff series against the defending champion Mavericks and the Lakers.
”I think every decision you make, if it doesn’t work out, you say, ‘Why did you do that?”’ Brooks told The Associated Press. ”And I’m with you on that. I wish I would’ve played Serge [Sunday].”
By keeping Ibaka — who played just 21 minutes in Game 1 — on the bench, it allowed Popovich to use two point guards (Parker and Gary Neal) and got away with using Stephen Jackson (who is better suited at guard or small forward) at power forward and did a decent job on Durant.
Expect Brooks to call Ibaka’s number a little bit more the rest of the series and make the Spurs react to their big lineup. Having Ibaka and Perkins on the court forces Popovich to play a more conventional lineup, which means Neal has to sit and Boris Diaw or Matt Bonner may have to play big minutes.