Miami, FL – An NBA coach is supposed to accentuate his team's strengths while masking as many deficiencies as possible.
In fact that's the job definition of any professional coach.
Talent is the be-all and end-all for any mentor and is supposed to make the job a lot easier, although like anything else, it comes with a new set of problems. Opposing coaches may look at the league's most loaded teams with envy but the pilots actually coaching the superstars often can get in their own way.
Case in point, Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks, who turned a 10-point Thunder lead in Game 3 of the NBA Finals into a 2-1 hole thanks to some decision making that had all of press row scratching its collective head.
Brooks' troubles started at tip-off when the coach again allowed his superstar Kevin Durant to defend LeBron James at the outset.
By midway through the third quarter when OKC had just started to pull away Durant had accomplished a number of things, the mid-range game was heating up and he had defended four different positions, shutting up a host of critics who thought the scoring champion was a one-trick pony. And oh yeah, he also picked up four fouls.
"Foul trouble is part of the game," Brooks said. "You have to play the game the right way, and you're going to get some fouls called against you. Unfortunately (Durant) had two games in a row where he had some foul trouble. But Kevin is an aggressive player. I'd like to see him keep attacking."
Durant's willingness to accept the challenge of guarding Miami's best is to be commended but at the same time Brooks needs him on the floor at key moments and must save the superstar from himself on occasion.
Durant wants to be regarded as the best player in the world and for that to happen he has to prove he's a top-tier defender like James but Erik Spoelstra doesn't point at Durant and tell LeBron to check him every minute he's on the floor.
James has far too many other responsibilities and Spoelstra throws a number of different looks at K.D. Revisionist historians like to talk about how Michael Jordan shut down the game's best players but it was Scottie Pippen doing the heavy lifting until the closing moments. Ditto for Kobe Bryant these days, who gets a lot of help from Metta World Peace during the body of any big game.
Durant, on the other hand, leaves James when the foul trouble begins.
"I mean, I don't know, I'm just trying to play aggressive on both ends, and unfortunately I'm getting some fouls called on me, but I've got to play through it," Durant said. "Two games in a row, man, so I've just got to play smarter next game, and hopefully I don't get no fouls called."
Now on to Russell Westbrook, the supremely talented OKC guard who plays out of control at times. Just as Durant picked up his fourth foul, Westbrook made a couple of poor decisions and Brooks yanked him. By the time Durant and Westbrook had returned to start the fourth quarter the Heat had turned that 10-point deficit into a two-point edge.
"Russell had a bad stretch of about three or four bad possessions," Brooks said. "I took him out to kind of calm him down. That's coaching, and we moved on. It's nothing against (Westbrook), he had a bad stretch. He turned it over, and he took a tough lay-up."
Teaching moments are fine in the regular season but using Game 3 of the NBA Finals to send your second best player a message while your best is sitting on the bench with foul trouble is incredibly reckless.
"That's NBA basketball. You've got to deal with it, you've got to move on from it, you've got to learn from it, you've got to get better from it," Brooks said.
A good rule of thumb for any NBA coach is to avoid playing match-up basketball if you have the more talented team. Let the other guy worry about that.
In Brooks' case, he has more bullets than anyone else in the NBA, including Spoelstra, so his goal should be to load up the gun and fire away until the chamber is empty. The Thunder will be left standing at the end with that philosophy.
Right now, however, Brooks is getting in his own way.
"We've got another game Tuesday night. If we play with the same effort we did tonight -- I have no complaints the way we played," Brooks said.
His players, on the other hand, probably have some complaints about the coaching.
"It's coach's decision," Westbrook said of his mini-benching. "Got to live with it."
"It was frustrating," Durant added. "Of course we had a good lead and they came back and made some shots. I hate sitting on the bench, especially with fouls."