Dirk Nowitzki was unconscious in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. For fear of seeing the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, I plead my case to Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Dear Scott Brooks,
Let me begin by congratulating you on advancing to the Western Conference Finals. Getting to this point alone has been quite an accomplishment. Your team is unusually young, you’ve made the most of a confused and overconfident point guard, and you’ve adequately handled the pressure of being the NBA’s darlings. Again, bravo.
Now, if you want to make the organization’s first NBA Finals since Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton were in green and yellow, you’re going to need to adjust your coaching philosophy, especially late in games.
Last night, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Dirk Nowitzki went berserk on your Thunder. Or, should I say, he went “berDirk.” You got torched. Don’t worry though, Scott. When your opponent takes 15 shots and scores 48 points despite zero three point attempts, no one expects you to win. After all, any player that goes 12/15 from the field and 24/24 from the line is simply having an outstanding game… and benefitting from poor defensive adjustments.
Whoops. Did I just say that? Did I call you out for sitting idly by like a court-side spectator as you allowed the NBA’s purest shooter to go one-on-one? Yes, Yes I did.
I didn’t say anything when Zack Randolph went off in the 4th quarter of Game 6 in the Conference Semifinals. You remember that one, don’t you? In refusing to double team Z-Bo, you allowed him to take control. After entering the game with Memphis up four, Randolph dominated, scoring 12 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in the final 9 minutes. Memphis won by 12 and forced a Game 7.
I understand, like all NBA coaches, you’re stubborn. You’ve probably watched as Gregg Popovich rode the “let Dirk get his and we’ll handle the rest” approach to relative success in the playoffs. First of all, you’re not Pop. Second, even Pop would double Dirk when he got too hot (assuming the Spurs still had a shot at winning).
That’s what irks me the most. You could have won that game, despite Dirk’s amazing display. If the game were out of hand, sure, let Dirk shoot his heart out and hopefully get it out of his system. That wasn’t the case, though. Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka cut the lead to 5 with three minutes left. You were right there.
About midway through the 3rd quarter you should have realized adjustments were needed. ESPN’s Mark Jackson was dead on when he practically begged you throw different looks at Dirk. Double team him, pound on him, ask him politely to stop. Anything would have helped more than what you did, which was nothing.
Personally, I would have double teamed the big German. Every. Single. Time. Get the ball out of his hands. The man was on fire. He couldn’t miss. What’s more, he was getting to the line whenever he pleased and absolutely WOULD NOT MISS from the line. Why not make someone other than the dude shooting 80% beat you? There’s a reason we all know Dirk’s name. There’s also a reason we don’t know if it’s Shaun or Shawn Marion. There’s a reason DeShawn Stevenson is better known as the guy with hideous neck tattoos. Those guys aren’t NBA superstars. Dirk is. If you let him do the same thing for 48 minutes, he’s going to crush you. You did, so he did.
I like you, Scott Brooks. You’re a young coach. Phil Jackson didn’t become great overnight. Experience takes time. Therefore, let’s use Game 2 to make some adjustments. Wait to see how Dirk performs before you make your move. If he’s still scorching in the 3rd, then double him and force him to move the ball.
Also, the best way to limit Dirk’s offensive wizardry is to make him work defensively. Force him to switch on Durant. Pound on him in the paint with Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Attack him whenever possible. Make Dirk expend himself defensively and you’ll reap the benefits when his offense suffers.
As you well know, you’re not going to stop Dirk. He’s too good. But you can help yourself by not allowing him to pick you off like a sniper in a bell tower. If he’s in a groove, double him. Make his teammates knock down open shots.
Oh, and if you could give Russell Westbrook a kick in the rear, that might help too. Best of luck.