Many overlook it, because head coaches are not the one making the highlight reel dunks or the game-winning shots, but in the Western Conference Finals, who’s calling the shots is huge. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich knows a thing or two about the postseason having four NBA championship rings to prove it. At the other end of the court will be Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks, who replaced former Spurs assistant PJ Carlesimo after he was fired as the Thunder head coach in their inaugural season in Oklahoma City.
Oddly, four years after the Thunder were at the bottom of the NBA food chain, these two teams meet for a spot in the NBA Finals. Both have played some of the best basketball this season, and their coaches deserve some praise.
Gregg Popovich won his second Coach of the Year award, this one coming two seasons after Scott Brooks won his first in 2010. Popovich did not allow the media’s opinion to become fact, proving every last NBA analyst wrong. He strung together multiple double-digit win streaks, and overtook the Thunder as the top team in the Western Conference.
However, what Scott Brooks has done in OKC is equally impressive. With such a young team, the Thunder are playing like veterans. Brooks has made this team elite these past couple of seasons, and the way they are playing right now, this series could shape up to be one of the best of all-time.
However, regular season games do not mean much in the postseason. Sure, San Antonio has beaten Oklahoma City from time to time. Maybe the Thunder do not match up well on any given night to San Antonio. Though, in a seven-game format, Brooks will have time to make adjustments, and see what works.
Whether he is able to make those adjustments is another question. Brooks may have put together some successful seasons, but he is going up against the Heavyweight champ of the NBA playoffs if there ever was one. San Antonio is looking to pounce early, and if they go up 2-0, Popovich and Co. will not be intimidated by a sea of blue or white or whatever shirt is given to every Thunder fan in attendance.
If Brooks wants to make this a series, it is vital Oklahoma City takes one in Games 1 or 2. Brooks has been a good coach, but the great coaches are made when they feel the pressure of going down multiple games in a series. Popovich has dug himself holes before, but he always finds a way to respond. Always finding a way to recover from the first punch thrown, and keep fighting.
Popovich is not a guy who lets his players do the coaching, because when Pop speaks, his players listen. Everyone gets the same treatment, and no one’s ego is bigger than the team. Sadly, coaches like this are few and far between, so Scott Brooks has not been tested in a playoff series with a true juggernaut like Coach Pop.
To Brooks’ credit, he did fight valiantly in the first round against the Lakers in his 2010 Coach of the Year season. The Spurs are not the Lakers, though. They have a coach who’s system works, because the players buy in to it. Each night there could be a different star, and there is no way of telling who it will be.
Brooks has the players, now he needs to utilize them to his advantage. Gregg Popovich should win this coaching battle, but some people can surprise you. However, this isn’t Pop’s first rodeo, and he will make the necessary decisions to get San Antonio back in to the NBA Finals.