There are plenty of differences between the 2012 NBA Finals and the first-round series between the Thunder and the Rockets, but the underlying pattern is strikingly similar. In both series, after Oklahoma City went out to a 1-0 lead, the opposing coach made the same adjustment.
Before Game 2 of the Finals, Erik Spoelstra went small, playing Chris Bosh at the 5 with four three-point shooters. Before Game 2 of this series, Kevin McHale went small, moving Patrick Beverley into the starting line-up and playing four out around Omer Asik.
From there, it was the same chain reaction. Serge Ibaka was totally taken out of his game, forced to defend a shooter 25+ feet away from the line and unable to punish smaller defenders on the block. Kendrick Perkins did what he usually does, which is nothing, and allowed the other team to play 5-on-4 on defense.
Whenever the Thunder have two big men on the floor, the floor is totally tilted against them. Brooks eventually goes to a four-out offense, but not before his team is playing from behind for the entire game. At no point does he consider making an adjustment to his starting line-up.
That's what coaching in the NBA is: making adjustments with your line-ups in order to create a mismatches against the defense and shore up your own. Brooks is way, way too slow on the draw when it comes to making adjustments. Either he's blind or he's too stubborn, but without Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Oklahoma City can't continue fighting with one hand tied behind their back.
Look at the pattern of the minutes in Game 5: Perkins starts and the Thunder are down -4. He doesn't play again until the start of the second half, when he helps Oklahoma City get out to a -9 start. The Thunder were playing from behind the entire game.
The flip-side is giving Perkins 16 minutes means Nick Collison only plays 7. Perkins went 1-3 with 2 points and 3 personal fouls -- because he can't move his feet on defense. Collison went 3-3 and had 6 points. There are only two things Perkins does better than Collison on a basketball court: play post defense (and even that isn't a huge difference) and mean mug. Houston doesn't have any post scorers and there's no more time for mean-mugging!
If Brooks cares to make an adjustment, it's staring him right in the face. Do what Houston did and go 4-out the entire game, alternating Ibaka and Collison at the 5.
Either way, I think Oklahoma City will survive. The Rockets went 14-35 while taking a lot of contested 3's, Harden in particular. He was doing his thing out there, but I don't think he'll hit 7-9 off the dribble 3's again. The Thunder went 8-33 on a lot of wide open shots. The odds are the percentages will flip.
More importantly though, Oklahoma City isn't beating Memphis playing like this.
What's really aggravating is that Scott Brooks refuses to learn any lessons. He makes the same mistake over and over and over again. Everyone's going to be talking about the Harden deal, but the real mistake the Thunder made last off-season might have been keeping their coach.
I don't think they would have beat the Heat last year even if they had someone pushing all the right buttons and they probably wouldn't get out of the West without Westbrook this year regardless, but the point is process, not results. You have to have a coach who can maximize his roster in the post-season.