Scott Brooks is loyal to his players, and they seem to love him for it. His dedication flies in the face of trends, statistics, and know-it-all internet columnists. Sometimes the blogosphere’s smirking obscures analysis of the legitimate question: how much has Brooks’ faith in his usual starting lineup cost his team?
Thunder observers most often question Brooks’ insistence on giving Kendrick Perkins regular minutes, even though the veteran big man seems well past his prime. This blog has no qualms about joining the anti-Perkins (pro-Nick Collison) chorus; one must look no further than the last two regulation minutes of tonight’s agonizing Game 4 loss, in which Perkins failed to corral one of three potential defensive rebounds that would have all but sealed the game.
Even close games are not won or lost on two plays, though. To truly illustrate the cost of Brooks’ stubbornness, here is a subjective ranking of Perkins’ terrible plays from the first quarter, in ascending order of awfulness:
4th – Missed tip-in, 4:13. This led to the Thunder getting an offensive rebound and Perkins exiting the game, so win-win even though it was a troubling display of incompetence.
3rd – Layup blocked by Marc Gasol, 8:03. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is allowed to swat a couple attempts without anyone questioning the swattee’s credibility.
2nd – Offensive foul, 11:26. This cost Oklahoma City its first possession, but Tayshaun Prince (the alleged victim) has baited many smarter players into doing dumber things.
1st – Missed 6-foot shot, 10:11. This looked like a terrible idea as it was happening, and got progressively worse with each agonizing step. Perkins received the ball in the mid-post, took an awkward spin over his left shoulder, and uncorked an attempt that moved horizontally, from left to right across the key, rather than toward the basket.
For the curious, Kevin Martin replaced Perkins at the 4:13 mark of the first quarter, with the Thunder leading 14-12. Over the next 12 minutes, Perkins sat the bench and watched the lead extend to 12.
He reentered with 3:38 left in the second quarter and avoided doing any damage to his team, but any doubt that the Thunder play better with him on the bench should have disappeared after his first eight minutes.
With Serge Ibaka (6-13, 17 points, 14 rebounds) reborn as a shooter after a dreadful start to the series, the Thunder can afford to throw out a smaller lineup and give up a few offensive rebounds as a trade-off to the greater offensive flow that a Perkins-free lineup affords them.
At the end, though, Brooks stuck with what he knew best, and the Perkins-Ibaka big man combo could not fend off the Grizzlies’ superior twin towers, as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol scored the two back-breaking baskets of the overtime, from which Memphis emerged a 103-97 winner, one victory from the Conference Finals.
It’s impossible to say whether a smaller lineup would have yielded a better result, but with the Thunder one loss away from elimination, doesn’t Brooks have to try something new in Game 5?
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.