The Memphis Grizzlies didn't retain Lionel Hollins despite the team winning 56 games and advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Now, first-year head coach Dave Joerger will make his playoff debut against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team the Grizzlies dispatched to reach the West Finals last season.
Joerger will face off against Scott Brooks, the oft-maligned headmaster of Oklahoma City. Let's take a look at the coaching matchup.
Joerger has been all over the place in his career, coaching in the IBA, CBA, USBL and D-League before finally getting the call-up to the Grizzlies in 2007-08 under head coach Marc Iavaroni. Joerger was promoted to lead assistant under Hollins in 2011, taking over as the team's defensive specialist.
With Joerger at the helm of the defense, the Grizzlies have been one of the league's best on that end over the past few seasons. Joerger's success as a defensive coach with the team was one of the reasons he was chosen to replace Hollins, and although there was a slight dip this year after finishing second in defensive rating in 2012-13, that can be attributed to the prolonged absence of Marc Gasol.
The Thunder offense obviously presents a tough challenge for the Grizzlies' defense. Memphis was able to slow Oklahoma City down last season, but that was without Russell Westbrook in the lineup. Westbrook and Kevin Durant will certainly get theirs, but Joerger will try and make them as inefficient as possible while limiting the contributions from the secondary pieces.
Brooks has won over 63 percent of his regular-season games and nearly 54 percent of his postseason games, so he's clearly doing something right. However, some will argue that what he's doing right is having a ton of talent on the roster. Durant and Westbrook are two of the best players in the NBA, while Serge Ibaka is also really good. And we can't forget about James Harden's stint in Oklahoma City.
Brooks fields a lot of criticism for his lack of creativity drawing up late-game sets despite having so much said talent, and also for his insistence on playing Kendrick Perkins. Perkins hasn't been all that useful a player over the past few years, but when healthy, he has remained a fixture in the starting lineup.
The Thunder clearly have more talent than the Grizzlies, but Memphis could expose some of Brooks' shortcomings and make this a long series. If Brooks relies solely on Durant and Westbrook getting buckets in isolation down the stretch, the Grizzlies can key in on them and make life difficult. So it would be nice to see Brooks show a little more diversity in his late-game play-calling.