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Scott Brooks lets Omer Asik steal the show from Kevin Durant and James Harden in Thunder’s Game 5 loss to Rockets

May 2, 2013, 1:50 AM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder's coach Brooks shouts at an official during their NBA Western Conference basketball playoff against Houston Rockets in Oklahoma

Kevin Durant has an attitude. Kevin McHale has a sense of humor. Scott Brooks has a job (for now). James Harden has an illness.

And we have a Game 6.

The Rockets beat the increasingly vulnerable-looking Thunder, 107-100, tonight. After taking a 3-0 series lead, Oklahoma City has lost two straight, but none more embarrassingly than tonight.

During the fourth quarter, Brooks – who coaches the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference – decided his team should intentionally foul Omer Asik of the eighth-seeded Rockets. The strategy was terrible in theory, and it went terribly.

Required to rhyme whenever a team intentionally fouls a specific player off the ball, I present my Asik Critique:

Asik Critique

In theory, using Asik’s regular-season free-throw percentage as a baseline, the Rockets’ offensive rating would be 112.4 on possessions ending in a pair of Asik free throws.

For reference, the Heat led the NBA this regulars season with an offensive rating of 110.3 and the Spurs are leading the league this postseason with an offensive rating of 111.0.

It’s also reasonable to expect the Thunder’s offense to suffer, considering free throws allow Houston’s defense to set and nearly negate any chance of an Oklahoma City fastbreak

In reality, the Thunder caught a break because Harden comically launched a half-court shot mistakenly before the Thunder fouled Asik. So, that gave Oklahoma City a big lift with a zero-point Houston possession.  But Asik shot better than expected, going 8-of-12 from the line when intentionally fouled.

So, that’s eight points in seven possessions – an offensive rating of 114.3.

Reminder: The Heat led the NBA this regulars season with an offensive rating of 110.3 and the Spurs are leading the league this postseason with an offensive rating of 111.0.

With Russell Westbrook out, the Thunder are psyched out, and nothing showed it more than this feeble strategy. At the same time, the Rockets are gaining confidence.

Late in the game, a frustrated Kevin Durant picked up a technical foul, and James Harden took the free throw. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

McHale told Asik to take it, but it was too late.

Oklahoma City’s bigger problems

Assuming Brooks learns from the Asik Critique (and assuming Brooks still has a job Friday), the Thunder can’t simply stop fouling Asik and win Game 6.

Kevin Martin, who shot 1-for-10, will take a lot of blame, and he deserves it.

But, when his team needed their best defensively, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins struggled.

Westbrook is a quality defender, and he’s missed. Durant has reserved his energy for running Oklahoma City’s offense, causing his defense to suffer.

As a result, the Rockets got to the rim with ease. But Ibaka and Perkins allowed them to finish once they got there.

On the other end, Durant took on point guard duties, but his teammates didn’t convert the open looks he created. Reggie Jackson didn’t really get going until the fourth quarter, when he scored 11 of his 20 points.

Harden had help defending the rim and scoring, mostly from Asik (21 points and 11 rebounds), but Francisco Garcia (5-for-12) and Patrick Beverly (2-for-5) shot well from beyond the arc for a team that bombed 35 3-pointers.

Harden vs. Durant

Harden, despite leaving the Rockets’ shootaround earlier in the day, made his first seven 3-pointers and finished with 31 points on 16 shots and eight rebounds.

Durant was even better. He had 36 points, seven rebounds and seven assists – but judging Durant by his total game misses a key element. Durant quit/wore down/tired of Brooks’ foolishness/insert your own narrative and went 0-for-5 and didn’t score in the fourth quarter. (Harden shot 1-for-5 in the period, but that will be ignored thanks to Brooks’ decision to foul Asik repeatedly.)

Foreshadowing occurred just before.

Harden, on a Rockets inbound from their own baseline with 35.9 seconds left in third quarter, walked the dog nearly to the Thunder 3-point line as Oklahoma City sagged back. Harden picked up the ball, took one dribble and nailed a 3-pointer (making him 6-for-6 on 3s in the game).

Durant answered with an isolation drive and floater for two points.

To complete the 2-for-1 Harden created, Aaron Brooks made a runner with a fraction of a second left.

Durant heaved an 81-footer that had obviously missed as the quarter ended.

Durant had to do it all for the Thunder tonight, and he couldn’t. Harden had a little help – some of it from Brooks – and that was just enough.

  1. norcal031 - May 2, 2013 at 2:09 AM

    Hack Asik………

  2. andrewproughcfe - May 2, 2013 at 2:10 AM

    Got to admit, I knew very little about the Rockets before this series. They are just loaded with aggressive, high energy guys with a lot of skills. This is a very fun series to watch. Even when Westbrook was playing and the Rockets lost the first three games, they were pushing the Thunder to the limit.

    I hope there is a game seven just for the pure viewing pleasure. Talk about must-see TV.

  3. savvybynature - May 2, 2013 at 2:28 AM

    In Brooks’ defense, he used the Hack-A-Somebody strategy last year in the WCF on Tiago Splitter — a significantly superior FT shooter than Asik based on career averages — and it worked. You never know how a guy will respond to the pressure of being intentionally fouled and sent to the line in the playoffs. He stuck with it too long, but they probably don’t overcome that sizable deficit either way.
    Not in his defense: I think playing Durant at PG as much as he has is a huge mistake, and his team has not responded well at all since Westbrook went down. OKC looks like they are in disarray. You wonder if they need to pull Thabo from the starting lineup to get some more creative offensive energy in there to take some pressure off Durant, but with their roster they just don’t have many good options. They gave Liggins some run and he made some nice plays, but also boneheaded defensive mistakes (like giving Harden that 3 and the resulting two-for-one). Lamb isn’t ready I guess. Kevin Martin just looked awful. Maybe try Jackson and Fisher as the starting back court, as crazy as that is, and let them initiate the offense rather than putting everything on Durant, but then who runs point for the second unit?
    I still think OKC closes out this series, but they will have their hands full next round.

    • buyerfirstrealty - May 2, 2013 at 9:56 AM

      They have their hands full now.

  4. moseskkim - May 2, 2013 at 3:06 AM

    The thunder don’t have much offense. They need Westbrook to shoot that much. Even with Westbrook and harden, when they lost Jeff green.. They struggled. Ibaka stepped up, sefolosha improved a lot. Harden leaves, so u need Martin to give them a spark but u had enough players playing well. Westbrook gets injured.. Huge huge blow. Now Martin has to be all star level offense. 1-10 isn’t gonna cut it. They need to go small and have Martin start for Perkins and shorten the bench.

    • buyerfirstrealty - May 2, 2013 at 9:58 AM

      I’m hearing a lot of references made to Westbrook being hurt. Jeremy Lin is the starting point guard for Houston and he’s been hurt too. He hasn’t played in the last 2 games and the Rockets won. Can’t the Rockets simply be given credit for winning?

      • Kurt Helin - May 2, 2013 at 12:17 PM

        You can’t seriously be comparing the impact of Westbrook and Lin equally, can you?

  5. listerineman - May 2, 2013 at 3:40 AM

    so KD will cry earlier then last year. NICE. he has not the quality of LeBron or Kobe, who can carry a team alone.

    • bigmeechy74 - May 2, 2013 at 9:21 PM

      So when lebron didn’t win with cleveland he didn’t “carry a team alone.” And Kobe had a little help from Shaq. And then Gasol etc. I’m not sure if you are really dumb or just trolling

  6. godfather8775 - May 2, 2013 at 4:19 AM

    Lebron left his team to join Wade’s team and Kobe needed Gasol, but they can carry a team themselves… Haha ok

    • aboogy123456 - May 2, 2013 at 10:37 AM

      Kobe and Lebron do a much better job at creating open shots for their teammates than Kevin Durant. Durant is a phenomenal scorer, but Wesbrook is the one that opens up their offense.

  7. supremekingz - May 2, 2013 at 6:42 AM

    Let this be a lesson to all the spoiled Thunder fans who complain that Westbrook hurts the team with all his shot attempts. Let that tired complaint officially RIP

    • soonerthunderviking - May 2, 2013 at 9:25 AM

      I hear ya…..Him taking 30 shots in a game isnt the issue though…..its when he takes 20 of them in 1 quarter With Durant on the floor who may take 2 or 3 in that same quarter…

    • abasketballthing - May 2, 2013 at 10:22 AM

      He does hurt them when he takes bad shots. His offense is needed, and he’s a great player, but he needs to improve his shot selection. It’s not that he needs to shoot less so Durant can shoot more, it’s that he needs to turn his bad shots into assists for other teammates. And I’m not saying he needs to stop being aggressive. He just has to keep playing aggressively, but smart as well.

  8. jgreiner9 - May 2, 2013 at 7:34 AM

    What are you talking about? Lebron took over for the majority of the playoffs last year. Wade had a bum knee and Bosh missed a bunch of games with an abdominal strain. But I think he was referring to when he took the caves to the finals and deep playoff runs with a team who’s second best player was Larry Hughes. I kind of agree with you on kobe though.

  9. ravensallday2012 - May 2, 2013 at 8:06 AM

    Jordan had 2 hall of famers on his team. Noone can do it alone.

  10. logicalsteelerfan - May 2, 2013 at 8:32 AM

    Whoa! I agree KD is not quite to the level of a kobe or lebron YET! When the cavs made it to the finals the east was terrible as usual. Played one good team the pistons and Lbj played marvelous. Kobe couldn’t win without gasol or shaq so NOBODY does it alone!

  11. bucrightoff - May 2, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    So much for Westbrook as the Ewing Theory, OKC might win this series but I really can’t see them going any further. Pressure Durant and make everyone else beat you, and OKC simply doesn’t have enough to do it.

    • buyerfirstrealty - May 2, 2013 at 10:01 AM

      Why doesn’t Oklahoma City try doing the same to the Rockets with Harden? The bottom line is the Thunder were still considered better than Houston with or without Westbrook. Now the teams are even. Harden vs. Durant. May the best 1 man team win.

      • eventhorizon04 - May 2, 2013 at 3:06 PM

        “Why doesn’t Oklahoma City try doing the same to the Rockets with Harden?”

        Because unlike OKC without Westbrook, the Rockets have multiple guys who can create their own shot. For example, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley have both made important shots and created good looks for others this series, especially in the previous game where Harden struggled. Durant hasn’t had anyone else consistently step up on offense.

        Also, the Thunder’s defense, which was elite in the regular season, has been poor this series. Double-teaming an excellent passer like Harden compromises the defense and would leave Rockets who can score like Parson, Beverly, and Delfino wide-open.

  12. patfic15 - May 2, 2013 at 8:51 AM

    Brooks looked like a damn fool last night. As Asik sank free throw after free throw, I kept thinking, surely this guy sees this and will adjust this ridiculous strategy. But no, the moron continued. His coaching strategy was that of a child who knows he’s going to lose but continues to agitate til the very end. Good move Brooks. You looked eerily similar to last year when your ass was getting out coached in Miami. Oh, and please tell Perkins to stop shooting that jump shot ala KG. Guy kills your offense. Jeff Green, James Harden, Eric May nor, Daquean Cook could all come in handy right now. Presti has made just as many stupid moves lately.

    • eventhorizon04 - May 2, 2013 at 3:18 PM

      Could an OKC fan explain to me why does Scott Brooks hate Nick Collison?

      I thought Collison played very well in limited minutes in the Finals last year, but Brooks insisted on putting Perkins out there instead of Collison, despite the fact that Perkins was too slow to defend any Miami players when the Heat went small and lacked the skill on offense to utilize his size advantage against the Heat.

      This OKC-Houston series, in the past 2 games, Collison has just 20 minutes of playing time.
      Last game, Brooks gave Collison just **6 minutes** of playing time, during which, Collison went 3-3 with 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

      Meanwhile, Perkins has had 24 minutes of playing time the past 2 games. Last game, Perkins went 1-3 to score just 2 points with 3 fouls and no blocks.

      Collison’s +/- the past 2 games is +13, and Perkins’ +/- is -30 in just 24 minutes of playing time. Somehow.

      So seriously – what does Brooks think Perkins is contributing in this series?

  13. timb12 - May 2, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    Where’s Ibaka been? He’s getting all that money, you’d expect at least a double double from him every game.

    • moseskkim - May 2, 2013 at 9:57 AM

      Westbrook is the easy answer.. He penetrates the D and kicks out.. He averaged 8 assists.The offense is in a flux right now and ibaka isn’t good enough to throw the ball into so he’s not as engaged and has resorted to being a tip in scorer and occasional jump shot. And I like Reggie Jackson. Didn’t think much of him but he’s a good player. But, thunder need playmakers and no harden/Westbrook.. Means more durant. So similar to Boston right now. Boston looks sad without rondo

    • andrewproughcfe - May 2, 2013 at 10:37 AM

      Yes, wasn’t that part of the reasoning for letting Harden go? That Ibaka was the “third” Muskateer in Oklahoma City and that there would never be enough basketballs if Harden stuck around?

      Sure looks like they kept the wrong 3rd guy right about now!

  14. xLith - May 2, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    Really hope this goes 7 games even if the Rockets lose. The future is looking ever so bright down here in Houston. Couple of bounces go our way in games 2 or 3 and last night could have been an upset close-out in the making. Oh well. It’s nice seeing the Thunder squirm and whine their way to back to back losses. I used to cheer for these guys but stubborn classless fans and the hack-ashik last night did it for me.

  15. brutl - May 2, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    Did the 3 quarters for a dollar joke find a new home?
    KD should go go back to being nice..

  16. thestudiokida - May 2, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    Great article; I’ve always wanted to see some advanced stats regarding the hack-a-___ strategy. This was clearly a horrible decision by Scott Brooks and looking at the series now; it really should be Houston up 3-2 except Kevin Durant got the luckiest bounce I’ve ever seen on a game winning 3.

  17. dylude - May 2, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    Durant was finally EXPOSED last night for not having the killer instinct. Kobe would never score 0 points in a 4th quarter. Durant jacked up one 3 pointer when double teamed in the 4th quarter but I think he should have jacked up five. He has supreme talent but without the egotistical mindset he can be easily bullied by no-name players like Francisco Garcia.

    I know Kevin personally, his mentality is not what people expect a guy with his talent level to be. He is a “willing passer” for a reason, he doesn’t like confrontation and all these NBA promotions showing him beating his chest make people who actually know him kinda laugh. Dude is just too laid back to attack a defense himself like he should have in the 4th mercilessly. Be selfish Kevin!!!

  18. lemfaxx - May 2, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    History coming on sunday…

  19. lemfaxx - May 2, 2013 at 12:52 PM

    History coming on sunday…..

  20. Mr. Wright 212 - May 2, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    I said after the second foul, “Brooks thinks he’s Popovich, I hope this blows up in his face.”

    And it did. you have the third best player in the NBA and you got it down to 6 with just a shade under 4 minutes left. Why do you continue doing this?

  21. shzastl - May 2, 2013 at 11:54 PM

    The main reason he did it was too conserve clock. Since they were down about 13 with 7 minutes left when they started hacking, it was a way to get more possessions and you just have to hope he misses since he’s their worst shooter. Obviously it’s not a good strategy for the reasons you point out, which is why they didn’t do it the whole game — desperate times call for desperate measures.

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