OKC, Dallas and Fair Weather Coaching

Scott Brooks and OKC Thunder

The Cambridge Dictionary online defines a “fairweather friend” accordingly:

“Fairweather Friend – noun. Someone who is a good friend when it is easy for them to be one and who stops when you are having problems.” – Cambridge Dictionaries Online.

Between the 3rd and 4th quarters of the Oklahoma City Thunder / Dallas Mavericks game on December 29, 2011, and TNT‘s David Aldridge asked Thunder Head Coach, Scott Brooks,”Scott, what is your confidence level right now with Russell [Westbrook]; he has had a very tough game so far.”

That was the very question I had in my mind as well as I watched the game.

So far that game, Russell Westbrook was just 3 of 11 from the floor, with SIX turnovers!

And the night before, Westbrook shot 0 out of 13, and had 4 turnovers against the Memphis Grizzlies. Moreover, Westbrook let his man, Jeremy Pargo, the Grizzlies backup point guard filling in for the injured Mike Conley, burn him for 15 points and 7 assists (and 1 turnover).

So when David Aldridge posed this question to Coach Brooks, I caught myself thinking, “If your starting point guard can’t shoot, can’t pass, can’t defend and can’t make good decisions with the ball, do you really want to go with him at this point in a close and important game?”

Coach Brooks’s answer made me smile. He said,

“Well, he has struggled, there is no question, but I am not a fair weather coach. I believe in him, I stick with him… he’s gonna to do well, he’s a special player. All he has to do is play good for one quarter tonight.”

Interestingly, despite Coach Brooks’s on camera vote of confidence, he did not put Westbrook in the game until the 4th quarter was half over.  Instead he went with backup point guard, Eric Maynor, until Maynor threw the ball away leading to a Dirk Nowitzki basket. It was then, with just 6:43 left in the game, that Russell Westbrook was given his chance to “play good for one quarter.”

And what was Westbrook’s first statistical contribution? He threw the ball away.

I’ll admit that at that point I had my doubts about Russell Westbrook giving Coach Brooks even 1/2 of a quarter of good basketball that night.

Then, with 3:16 left in the game, Westbrook made an impressive break away dunk while being fouled by Jason Terry, then followed it by coolly knocking down the free throw, a 3-point play that drove the home crowd into a frenzy.

That was the beginning of what ended up to be a strong finish for Russell Westbrook, as Westbrook was instrumental in the Thunder’s victory over the Mavs. In fact, before the game ended, the crowd was chanting, “Russell! Russell! Russell!”

In the NBA, a quarter lasts 12 minutes. I’m not sure if Westbrook’s 6:43 4th quarter indicates Coach Brooks had 100% confidence in him, but I do feel the OKC crowd showed that they are not fair weather fans by encouraging Russell as they did.

That said, I do think Coach Brooks did prove he was not a fair weather coach — and he proved it by the play he drew up to end the game.

Remember, Dallas eliminated OKC from the playoffs last season, and with Mark Cuban in town traveling with the team, you could tell the crowd especially wanted this victory.

After Russell Westbrook’s dunk and 3-point play, Vince Carter nailed an 18-foot jumper that brought the feisty Mavericks to within 1 point with 2:58 to go in the game.

Looking to land a knock out blow, Kevin Durant attempted a 3-pointer and missed… but Russell Westbrook grabbed the offensive rebound and nailed a quick jumper giving the Thunder a 3 point cushion.

By the way, I have a personal theory that I keep track of in the closing minutes of close games.

While everyone fixates on who is going to “step up” and make key shots in the closing moments, I quietly watch the rebounds.

For all the attention big “clutch” shots get in basketball, I believe that close games are usually won by the team that grabs the rebounds in crucial moments. After all, you can’t make the big shot if you don’t have the ball.

Great players tend to step up in crunch time, however there are great players on both teams, so the defensive intensity is likewise stepped up and more intense than it has been all game long. Consequently, shooting percentages tend to be lower at clutch time in close games.

So if shots are less likely to fall in at clutch time, how do you win? Rebound and try again.

Clutch rebounding is the oft overlooked key to closing out close games, and whoever grabs crunch time rebounds is all too often the unsung hero, but a hero nonetheless.

So as a coach, I emphasize that we have to own every rebound under two minutes. Everyone one of them.

At any rate, Russell Westbrook missed his next jumper, Dirk rebounded, which led to a Dirk 3-pointer which tied the game at 96 with 1:39 left in the game. Durant answered with a 2-point jumper just inside the free throw line.

Then, with 1:04 left in the game, Dirk committed an offensive foul setting a moving screen at the arc. The replay confirmed it was a moving screen, nevertheless Dirk, perhaps expecting superstar treatment from the officials, immediately launched into an obscenity filled tantrum that was easily lip-read by the television viewers. Kevin Durant calmly made the technical free throw, then Westbrook nailed a jumper.

As Dallas burned one of their two remaining, precious time outs, I thought about how just seconds ago Dirk Nowitzki had tied the game with a heroic 3-pointer, then undid all 3 points with his bad judgment, putting the Mavericks in a 4 point hole with just 46 seconds left in the game.

Some people hate to admit it, but character has a lot to do with success in life’s endeavors, including professional sports.

Despite Nowitzki’s bone-headed setback, Jason Terry wouldn’t let the Mavericks go down that easily and nailed a quick 3 pointer. Now, with 39 seconds left in the game, the Mavericks were down 2 and within striking distance.

Kevin Durant tried once again try to deal the Mavericks a knock out blow with a clutch 3-pointer from the top of the arc, but once again he missed.

Durant was now 0 for 2 in 3-point shooting for the 4th quarter.

Fortunately for the Thunder, Serge Ibaka grabbed the clutch rebound and was promptly fouled by Dirk to stop the clock. The tension ratcheted up a notch when Ibaka missed his first free throw. When Ibaka missed his 2nd free throw and Dirk grabbed the rebound and called time out, the stadium was uneasy.

Down 2 with 9 seconds to go, Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle removed Brendon Haywood from the game an inserted Vince Carter, a move which columnist Luke Hughes apparently found laughable.

No one was laughing, though, when Carter stepped up and nailed a 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left on the clock. Vince Carter’s heroics had just given Dallas a 1 point lead, and probably the win.

This is the point in the game where Scott Brooks showed he was not a fair weather coach.

All the Thunder needed for a win was 2 points. The play could have been a lob near the rim where the percentages are higher, but no.

Even though Kevin Durant had missed his last two 3-point attempts, Scott Brooks drew up a play that was for a Keven Durant 3-pointer all the way. You can tell because as the ball was out-of-bounds, 2 teammates set screens for Durant, while Russell Westbrook, who was supposed to run to the corner to be the 2nd option for the inbounds pass, didn’t even bother to do so.

The inbounds went to Durant, and Durant launched the long 3, and the shot went in at the buzzer.

From missed 3s to missed free throws, from offensive fouls to technical fouls, that was one wild ending to that game.

As I watched Kevin Durant’s teammates, including Russell Westbrook, surround him, you could see respect and admiration for Durant in their eyes. Those that knew Durant best clearly thought he was THE man!

Luke Hughes’s SB Nation article said “Kevin Durant’s herocis prove he’s the best player in the NBA” which is absurd. Did Sundiata Gaines’s heroics in Salt Lake City to defeat LeBron James in January of 2010 make him the best player in the NBA?

One shot is just one shot.

Without question Keven Durant’s buzzer beater was amazing and given all the drama that led up to it, one I won’t soon forget.

But it was also kind of amazing that Coach Scott Brooks gave Durant a shot.

I believe you, Coach; you are not a fair weather coach.

The great philosopher, Anonymous, once said, “Some people have accomplished more than they ever thought they could, because someone else thought they could.”

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