OKC comes up short on sad day for Brooks
DENVER -- The Thunder wanted to win this one for their coach.
But it wasn't to be.
On Saturday, Lee Brooks, the 79-year-old mother of Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, had died in Northern California. Brooks decided to coach Sunday night against Denver at the Pepsi Center, but the Thunder fell short 121-118 in overtime.
“We were trying to give him a win for his mom,’’ said Thunder forward Serge Ibaka. “But it’s basketball. We did the best we could.’’
After appearing to be hopelessly behind in the waning minutes of regulation, the Thunder almost pulled it out. Trailing 107-96 with less than three minutes left, they closed with a 13-2 run, tying the score at 109-109 on a 27-foot 3-pointer by Russell Westbrook with 22.9 seconds remaining.
But the Thunder ran out of miracles in overtime despite Kevin Durant (37) and Westbrook (36) having finished with a combined 73 points. Their six-game winning streak came to an end and they fell back into a tie with the Los Angeles Clippers for having the NBA’s best record at 32-9.
“I’m good,’’ Brooks said after the game about how he was doing emotionally. “I’m good. I’m thankful. I’m good.’’
Brooks did not want to talk much about the death of the mother who raised him and six other children in Lathrop, Calif., after their father, who is now deceased, had abandoned the family when Brooks was 2. He explained his decision for coaching Sunday in a statement released before the game by the Thunder.
“I appreciate the thoughts and prayers that are with my family," Brooks said. "I know my mom would want me to coach tonight's game and I do so to honor her memory and all that she meant to me as a mother and as an invaluable role model."
It was emotional before the game. Brooks, who had served as an assistant under Nuggets coach George Karl from 2004-06, was given a big hug by Karl.
Karl offered Brooks some words. He talked about his mother Edith dying in the early 1980s when Karl was coaching in the Continental Basketball Association in Montana, far from the family home in Pittsburgh.
“I just told him to celebrate his mother’s life,’’ Karl said. “I actually told him that when my mother died, I was playing in a softball tournament in Helena, Mont., and instead of leaving I stayed and played the final two days of the tournament. We went on to win the tournament. I thought my mother would have wanted me to do that.
“It’s going to be a tough time, a heavy moment (for Brooks). I know they had a very close bond and she was a big part of who he is and why he was successful.’’
Brooks, despite being 5-foot-11 and undrafted, beat the odds to play 10 years as an NBA point guard. His mother didn’t like to travel, and the only time she saw him play outside of one-hour trips to Golden State and Sacramento was a 1994 voyage to Houston when Brooks was with the Rockets in the NBA Finals.
After Brooks became the Thunder coach in 2008, his mom said she’d come to Oklahoma City only if he made the Finals. When that happened last season, Lee Brooks flew in for Games 1 and 2 in a series the Thunder eventually lost 4-1 to Miami.
“She was a rock in the family,’’ said Bill Stricker, Brooks' coach at Manteca (Calif.) High School whom Brooks said served as his father figure while growing up. “The thing that Scott probably got from her more than anything was a never-quit work ethic. She was the only breadwinner in the family and she went to work every day because her kids were everything to her. She was a little warrior.’’
Stricker, who played one NBA game with Portland in 1970-71, said by phone Sunday night from Northern California he had texted Brooks to offer his condolences but had not yet made contact. Lee Brooks had been managing for the past decade a car wash called “Dribbles’’ that Brooks owns in Manteca.
Despite coaching with a heavy heart, Brooks nearly steered the Thunder to a dramatic win. But in overtime Durant missed both his field-goal attempts and actually missed a free throw, ending a streak of having made 50 straight. Durant was 20-of-21 on the night, including 5-of-6 in overtime.
Westbrook had hit a jumper to open overtime and give Oklahoma City a 111-109 lead. But those would be his only points of the extra period.
Westbrook missed his final two shots, including a 25-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer that was blocked by Nuggets guard Corey Brewer. Westbrook protested to official Zach Zarba that he was hit on the arm but it was to no avail.
Brewer was the hero for the Nuggets (25-18), scoring a team-high 26 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter. Westbrook was regarded as the bad guy at the Pepsi Center.
Twice in the second half, when Nuggets mascot Rocky was taking over-the-head halfcourt shots, Westbrook jumped up in front of the rim and grabbed the ball, drawing boos from the crowd. The second time he did so, Westbrook went so far as to throw the ball into a tunnel where players enter the court.
“I’ve never seen anybody do that before,’’ Lawson said of a player impeding the attempts by Rocky, which earn fans free queso from a local restaurant if one goes in. “It was kind of funny. We've got a villain now. Every time he comes here, we’re going to definitely try to boo him… The fans now have a villain when Russell comes to the Pepsi Center.’’
Westbrook, who declined to comment on what Lawson said, seemed to enjoy being the bad guy. After hitting the 3-pointer that tied the score near the end of regulation, he pumped his arms several times in a move seemingly designed to elicit more boos.
Westbook continued to play despite rolling his left ankle late in the second quarter after stepping on Ibaka’s foot. Westbrook, who was in obvious pain, said he continued to play because “this was a big game for us’’ against the team that has been Oklahoma City’s primary Northwest Division rival.
“One of the things we all love about Russell is he is such a competitor and he doesn’t make excuses,’’ Brooks said.
The same could be said about Brooks. Ibaka commended how he stuck around to coach the day after his mother had died.
“It was very tough with his mom,’’ said Ibaka, who said he had met Lee Brooks once in San Francisco and she was “very nice” to him. “This whole team, we’re like a family and when he lost his mom, everybody felt kind of the same (with sadness).’’
Ibaka said the Thunder did what they could to win Sunday for Brooks. But they came up just short.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at
email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson.