The Defense Can’t Rest
Against an all-offense outfit like the Golden State Warriors, a team needs to feel confident in its ability to get stops. So tonight’s spotlight for the Oklahoma City Thunder understandably fell on Kendrick Perkins.
Perkins allegedly anchors OKC’s defense, but averages about five points, six rebounds, one block, and two turnovers per game, and his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) ranks dead last by a mile among full-time pivot men.
So why do writers and announcers continue to talk about his acquisition last spring as such a critical move for the title-contending Thunder?
Perkins offered some glimpses in the first half, when his rim protection was invaluable: he saved at least 10 points by blocking or altering close-in shots, and he gamely chased Golden State’s terrifying backcourt duo of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis through a dizzying series of pick-and-rolls.
On offense, though, Perk was even more of a nonfactor than usual. He missed his first three shots, all ugly jump hooks, and drew a technical foul for swinging an elbow after his one successful attempt.
And tellingly, Perkins was nowhere to be found when Oklahoma City put the game away. A lineup of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, and James Harden led a 12-1run that stretched the visitors’ lead from 88-85 to 100-86 and effectively ended the night.
This lineup looked especially deadly against the undersized Warriors, but Collison defends big men well enough that the Thunder could use him at center against all but a few teams. That quintet has every other attribute a team could want, although according to 82games.com, they’ve only played 13.8 minutes together this year with poor results, so perhaps the Thunder coaching staff knows something this blog doesn’t.
Take the Points
Harden put on another efficiency clinic, using his possessions to create the most effective shots: three-pointers (1-4) free throws (8-8), and layups (3-5).
Westbrook, a frequent target in this space, was no efficiency slouch himself. He continued to display an attacking mentality, eschewing long two-point attempts in favor of transition layups, offensive rebounds, and aggressive pull-ups after straight-line drives.
He also continued to demonstrate newfound maturity, finding the best shot for his team in nearly every situation. Many times, that meant calling his own number, but Westbrook’s shot attempts have never been a problem in and of themselves: he’s an effective scorer who should be shooting the ball.
In games past, the nature of his shots – frequently forced, off-the-dribble three-pointers – often submarined his effectiveness. For the past week, since the inexplicable loss to league-worst Washington, a new Westbrook has emerged. He still turns the ball over too often, but he’s embraced the off-the-dribble game that terrifies every sane-thinking defender.
Those same defenders must be equally worried about Durant, who scored the iciest 37 points since George Gervin hung up his sneakers. Off screens, off the dribble, off lobs, or at the free throw line (perfect on 11 attempts), he coldly picked apart the Warriors’ admittedly porous defense.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.