Kevin McHale’s been out-coaching Scott Brooks at every juncture in the first round. This is basically like Ben Carson schooling Doogie Howser. In Game 5, it continued with McHale running mental laps around Brooks. McHale is often disregarded as a top coach because he was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009. However, in Houston he’s re-establishing his rep with every game played. McHale is pressing all the right buttons while Brooks is searching for the manual.
After Game 1, McHale went small by starting quick guard Patrick Beverley beside Jeremy Lin. Carlos Delfino played a series-low 10 minutes in Game 4 as McHale dug shooting guard Francisco Garcia out from six feet under on the bench and started him in Game 5.
Brooks thought he had a eureka moment in the fourth quarter of Game 5 when he decided to hack Asik. Unfortunately, Asik started knocking them down and hit 11 of the 16 free throws he shot. When the lead got cut to six, Brooks kept going back to Hack-Asik, but before they knew it, the lead was back in double figures and Asik was in a shooting drill.
Oklahoma City is resorting to gimmicks to beat an eighth seed they had on their ropes a few days ago. After this postseason, Durant and Russell Westbrook should be closer than PB&J from this point forward.
Without Westbrook, the Thunder have looked more like the Smush Parker Lakers than the best team in the West minus Phil. Durant scored 36 points, but he was 1-for-8 from behind the arc and he’s beginning to show signs of frustration.
Conversely, James Harden’s expression never changed when the Rockets fell behind 3-0. In Game 5, Harden hit his first seven three-pointers and finished with 31 points. Harden is making Oklahoma City regret trading him, while Serge Ibaka has gone ghost on the offensive end.
Moreover, the focus has shifted from whether Durant and the Thunder can escape the West to whether they can beat the Harden-led Rockets. Durant’s been knocked down a peg in the last five days and he hasn’t responded with composure.
In the fourth quarter, he stood and pouted when he didn’t get the ball, but went 0-for-5 from the field. It was the complete opposite of the calm and collected Durant who was more than willing to allow Westbrook to initiate his offense.
The Rockets are playoff novices, but they’re beginning to look like a legitimate challenger to the Thunder.