Kendrick Perkins plays basketball angry. Plays mad. Invents enemies to keep himself all lathered up.
That's why Perk scowls. Why he glares. Why he backs down from no confrontation and often accelerates them. That's why I call him Gran Torino. Why he yelled at the TNT broadcast crew early in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
Perk was mad, all right, but the truth is, he was mad at himself. Disgusted. Embarrassed.
The Thunder's two losses in San Antonio ripped at the core of Perkins' identity. The Spurs sliced up the Thunder defense, shooting 60.2 percent from the field over the last five quarters. And Perkins didn't like it. Didn't like it one little bit.
“I was disappointed in my Game 2 performance as far as … being the defensive anchor, what I've been all season,” Perkins said. “I just wanted to go out there and do what I need to do and try to stop their pick and roll.”
You know what happened. Perkins and his pals put a clamp on the high-riding Spurs. San Antonio shot 39.5 percent from the field, committed 21 turnovers and was blasted 102-82.
The Thunder played with energy and commitment and dedication to that defensive-mindedness that franchise leaders always babble about. But mostly, the Thunder played with pride.
You see, that's really what Perkins has. Pride. He's a prideful man. He believes in things like honor and duty and doing your job. And he's not too diplomatic about letting someone know when they fall short of those ideals. Even when it's himself.
So Thursday night, Perkins was ready to make amends.
“I don't think Perk played well (in San Antonio), and he understands that,” Scotty Brooks said. “Perk has a lot of pride in his ability and what he brings to this team. We don't win games without Perk. He's the anchor on the defensive end. He brings toughness. He has leadership.”
This is what leadership looks like. Admitting your own failures. Vowing to do better. Imploring teammates to do the same.
And the Thunder responded. Every Boomer played lockdown defense. Thabo Sefolosha was masterful in taking on the Tony Parker assignment. Russell Westbrook didn't treat it like a demotion to be moved off Parker, instead playing the passing lanes like Deion Sanders played cornerback. Perk and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison accepted the challenge of switching on screens and guarding San Antonio magicians Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Perkins went from battling Tim Duncan on the block to guarding Parker 17 feet from the basket and prompting a missed jumper.
“He came back and … was exceptional,” Brooks said. “He played every possession hard, with a lot of force. He was energized. When you have Parker and Ginobili coming at you, those aren't easy guys to stay in front of for a guard, forward or a big.”
And Perkins wasn't the only Thunder with wounded pride.
“Anybody, after the first two games in San Antonio, was thinking, we need to do a better job,” Ibaka said. “Everybody. Better job to stop the ball, better job to helping. To go contest some shots. Everybody. Not just Perk. Also me. I was thinking, I need to do a better job.”
Said Sefolosha, “Coming off a loss like we did in San Antonio, two losses, we really wanted to redeem ourself and just play better. Bottom line, we had to play better,”
Brooks made some solid adjustments. Thabo onto Parker. The switches. The Thunder found a crack in the Spurs' offense. Long arms cut down on the passing lanes; willing feet cut down on the driving lanes. Parker and Ginobili, who took turns at spectacular down in San Antonio, largely were ineffective in OKC.
But the biggest Thunder change was in zeal. The Thunder played with fanatical effort. Took off no possessions. The Thunder did not play mistake-free. The Spurs found some open shots. The Spurs made some tough shots. But by game's end, the Thunder had reversed the feeling. Pride returned to Big Blue.
And so when Perkins made a defensive stop in the first quarter, that pride bellowed. He glared at the TNT crew and snapped, “Talk about that!”
Nothing personal, Gran Torino said, “just emotions. You tend to watch games and kind of hear what people say every now and then, kind of light a fire up under you. That's all.”
Strategy is important. Emotions no less so.
“Very important,” said Perkins. “We want to win. We didn't play well the first two games. We just came out and played with more effort than last game. I just think we gotta do better job of playing with effort and trusting each other, and the rest will take care of itself.”
The Thunder needed more than victory in Game 3. It also needed pride restored. Both missions accomplished.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.