Tag:Scott Brooks
Posted on: November 19, 2010 11:50 pm

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

BOSTON – At one point during the Thunder’s surprising victory over the Celtics without Kevin Durant Friday night, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks saw something he admired, but didn’t necessarily like.

Driving fearlessly into the conversation about the most lethal point guards in a league filled with them, Russell Westbrook was doing what he was supposed to do in Durant’s absence. He was trying to carry his team, on the road, against the defending Eastern Conference champions. Against the team that lost to the team that knocked the surprising Thunder out of the playoffs last spring.

The trouble was, he was trying too hard. After a turnover and a charge on consecutive out-of-control possessions in the second quarter, Brooks took Westbrook out and tried to give him a chance to cool off.

“He has a spirit that’s not going to back down,” Brooks said after the shorthanded Thunder beat the Celtics 89-84, their second victory in four days against a playoff team on the road following an equally impressive performance in Utah. “But sometimes, you have to back down and use your guys. I said, ‘Russell, you have four guys out there working just as hard as you are. Use them.’”

After a three-minute stint on the bench, Westbrook settled down and ultimately needed those guys – on both ends of the floor – to hold off the Celtics down the stretch. Westbrook finished with 31 points, six assists, and seven turnovers, dueling with Rajon Rondo until the Celtics’ point guard missed the last five minutes with a strained hamstring. The Thunder won despite going the last 9 1-2 minutes without a field goal, with Westbrook going 0-for-7 with six points – all from the foul line – in the fourth quarter, and with Durant sitting on the bench in street clothes with a sprained ankle that caused him to miss a game for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

After finding out less than an hour before tipoff that the Thunder would be without Durant in addition to starting forward Jeff Green, the Celtics suffered a classic case of letdown.

“We were definitely out of sync,” Ray Allen said. “We didn’t have any ball movement. We didn’t have any rhythm all night.”

In effect, the Celtics learned how it feels to be their opponent on most nights. Typically, it is Rondo who controls the tempo and dances through the defense with the ball on a yo-yo string. Westbrook did it with aggression and straight-line speed, whereas Rondo does it with lateral quickness and cut-your-heart-out guile. But Westbrook’s method was just as effective.

“Russell did a phenomenal job controlling the tempo,” Brooks said.

That is, after coming to the bench, listening to a lecture Rondo used to hear all the time from Doc Rivers, and resisting the urge to do too much.

“When guys are down,” Westbrook said, “other guys have to come in and be ready to play.”

Just not too ready.

The Thunder needed a confidence-builder after struggling to a 3-3 start that was capped by a 92-83 loss to the Celtics at home on Nov. 7. Their success will almost always be about Durant. But it was interesting to see Westbrook fearlessly attack Rondo without his superstar scoring machine on the floor with him.

More and more, Westbrook’s matchup with the opposing point guard will be as much reason to watch the Thunder as Durant. The rest of this month alone will feature Westbrook vs. Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. Early next month, Derrick Rose. Westbrook belongs right there in the conversation with all of them.
Posted on: April 23, 2010 10:03 am

Durant steps up to Kobe challenge

When I spent a few minutes after shoot-around last month with NBA coach of the year Scott Brooks – hours before his upstart Thunder would blow out the Lakers in Oklahoma City – Brooks showered appropriate helpings of praise on his franchise player, Kevin Durant. One statement, however, had me walking off the Thunder’s practice court scratching my head. 

“He wants the challenge of guarding the best players on the teams that we play,” Brooks was saying that day. “I haven’t given him a lot of opportunities there. But he’s always tapping me on my shoulder: ‘I want this guy, I want that guy.’ He’s as good of a defender we have.” 

As good a defender as we have? The same player whose defense was a well-publicized liability for an Oklahoma City team that won 23 games the year before? 

Easy for Brooks to say, was my reaction. Another matter entirely to put those words into action. 

On Thursday night, with his team facing a 3-0 deficit at home against the defending champs, Brooks put his confidence where his mouth was. He didn’t just give Durant an opportunity; he gave him the opportunity. He put Durant on the ultimate closer, the most feared player in the league with the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter or overtime. And Durant responded, using his length and vastly improved confidence on the defensive end to hold Bryant to 2-for-10 shooting in the fourth quarter of Oklahoma City’s 101-96 victory. 

“He wanted to guard Kobe. I wanted him to guard Kobe,” Brooks said at the interview podium afterward. “It was a group effort on that decision.” 

Typically, defending Bryant in the fourth quarter of a playoff game is a group effort. Brooks, showing the instincts that garnered him coach-of-the-year honors earlier in the day, knew it was Durant’s time. • It was a bold move, one that paid off in a game the Thunder badly needed if they hoped to make this first-round series more than a mere stepping stone in the Lakers’ bid to repeat as champions. 

Did Brooks find a secret weapon, one that will give his team a chance to hold serve at home and put the pressure squarely on the Lakers when the series returns to L.A. for Game 5 on Tuesday? Well, it’s no secret anymore. Bryant, already chafed by the second-fiddle status he’s been assigned by the pundits who inexplicably view the 21-year-old Durant as his equal, will simply view this as another challenge to his alpha male status. 

Bryant’s predictable response to falling short in the fourth against Durant notwithstanding, Brooks deserves all the credit he’s received for molding his superstar into more than a one-dimensional scorer. 

“He has all the physical tools, but he had to get stronger and he did get stronger over the summer,” Brooks said. “But mentally, he just had to make sure that he was ready to take that challenge every night. It’s hard to be a two-way player. We demand a lot out of him and we need a lot out of him on the offensive end, and he’s becoming a better playmaker there. But we need him to be the defender that he has become, and it still has to get better. 

“When you’re that gifted as a player, there’s not a lot of focus on the defensive end as a young player,” Brooks said. “But he’s committed. You can’t have a player on your team who’s not committed on the defensive end if your philosophy is about defense.” 

When Durant’s shots weren’t falling Thursday night, he did what great players do – he found ways to exert his influence in other areas. He had 19 rebounds to go with his 29 points, then took the biggest challenge any defender can accepts in the playoffs. 

“A lot of guys underestimate my strength,” Durant said. “If you watch the games, I get to the free-throw line, I play in the post, I get guys on my hip and back them down. So it’s not like I’m getting pushed around all the time. I go down there and try to get rebounds, so I try to mix it up down low. A lot of people don’t notice that; I guess because from the outside looking in, I’m a skinny guy. I just try my hardest to go down there and play with the big guys.” 

He played with the biggest of them all Thursday night and came out on top. It was only one step for the Next Great Player. How big? We'll find out.
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