After that first round, there was nowhere to go but down. Yet two coaches that were highly criticized for their decisions (or lack there of) went into full nose dive mode as their teams were absolutely handled at home in the first game of the Conference Semifinals. Let’s start with Frank Vogel, perhaps the more sympathetic character, because although he’s searching for answers in a head-scratching fashion, his most valuable defensive player apparently spent most of the latter half of the season doing this:
Over here playing Final Fantasy IV for the first time ever. Next is World of Warcraft — Roy Hibbert (@Hoya2aPacer) March 2, 2014
Now the Pacers are dealing with a $14.2 million a year center that couldn’t even grab a rebound in 17 minutes of play last night, and the rest of the roster is so limited offensively that they really don’t have much of a chance to compete in the playoffs if they can’t hold the opposition below 90 points.
If Vogel is searching for answers with Luis Scola, Ian Mahimi, and Chris Copeland, Scott Brooks seems to be on an internal spiritual quest based on the dumbfounded look (see right) he’s constantly had on his face throughout these playoffs.
I mean, Chris Paul’s Game 1 performance would’ve inspired shock and awe from any coach, but let’s think about how his historic night got started. Brooks wisely inserted Thabo Sefolosha into the starting lineup, yet decided to have him chase J.J. Redick (who buried his first few shots anyways) off screens instead of trying to stop the Clippers’ engine.
With Russell Westbrook generally confused and Reggie Jackson completely outmatched, Paul got four WIDE OPEN threes on his way to 17 first quarter points. By the time Brooks realized that putting his best perimeter defender on the Point God was a good idea, the hoop probably looked like an Olympic sized swimming pool to CP3 and he clearly felt like this.
As slow as Brooks’ adjustments are, Kendrick Perkins is even slower, and keeping him on the floor for more than the first five minutes seems like another huge mistake. Steve Kerr pointed out during the broadcast that every new series takes on a life of its own and presents new challenges. In this case, Perkins and massive rookie Steven Adams, who did a solid job guarding Zach Randolph last round, are basically useless as long as Blake Griffin is on the floor. After watching the tape, the answer should be clear (play Nick Collison, more), but you’d think an NBA coach could figure that out after four regular season bouts with the Clippers.
Granted, the Clippers simply outplayed the Thunder and deserved this first game, yet as it got increasingly out of hand, you could see Oklahoma City’s confidence waning along with their tenuous chemistry. Russell Westbrook notably walked away from a team huddle and sat at the end of the bench by himself, which could be a sign of things to come if Brooks doesn’t turn this series around in a hurry.
You can’t call the Thunder front runners after several scintillating comebacks against the Grizzlies last round, but perhaps they are just built for the regular season and too easy to stop with only two legitimate playmakers in their lineup. They may have their flaws, yet you can’t help but imagine what a veteran coach (paging Lionel Hollins) could do with this roster.
It’s obviously “win or go home” for every team at this point, and it may be “win or get fired” for both Vogel and Brooks. Luckily for them, after disastrous Game 1 performances, there’s nowhere to go but up.