Kendrick Perkins was not a happy camper after Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Perk is not a happy camper anytime the Thunder loses, but he had a point to make.
“I just don’t understand why we start out the first quarter the way we did, with the lineup that we had, and all of a sudden we change and adjust to what they had going on,” Perkins said. “So they won the last three quarters, and that’s what happened.”
True enough. The Heat trailed 33-19 after one quarter but won the last three quarters: 27-16, 33-26 and 25-23.
With 6:19 left in the first quarter, Scotty Brooks made his usual substitution — James Harden for Thabo Sefolosha. The Thunder led 15-10 at the time. Three minutes later, the lead had grown to 23-12.
With 3:17 left in the quarter, Brooks again subbed, only this time more than the personnel changed. Brooks took out Perkins and inserted Derek Fisher, going with the small lineup. The lead grew to 33-16 before Norris Cole’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer brought the Heat within 14.
At the start of the second quarter, Brooks stayed with a small lineup — Kevin Durant, Thabo, Fisher, Harden and Nick Collison. And the Heat scored the first 13 points on the quarter. In a span of four minutes, the lead was lost. Midway through that spree, Westbrook replaced Durant, then Durant two minutes later replaced Thabo. That was the only time in the game Durant or Westbrook sat out. Brooks stayed with his small lineup the rest of the quarter, and OKC had a 49-46 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Brooks went back to the big lineup. This time, it was not so effective. Mario Chalmers’ 3-pointer with 7:07 left in the quarter gave Miami a 64-60 lead, and Brooks replaced Perkins with Harden 35 seconds later. So the big lineup was outscored 18-11 during that span. And did not return.
Brooks went small the rest of the game.
So let’s review. The big lineup was on the court together 14:11 and outscored Miami 34-30. The small lineup was used 33:49 and was outscored 74-64.
The truth is, 14:11 is not a long enough time to establish overwhelming evidence of the big lineup’s superiority. But it is the second straight game in which the big lineup was more effective than the small lineup. Same thing happened in Game 3. In the two Oklahoma City games, the Thunder’s small lineup clearly was more effective than the big lineup, but that has changed in Miami.
So that’s what Perk was talking about. The reliance on the small lineup is becoming a question. Its effectiveness lessens with every game.
Plus/minus numbers can be deceiving. Thabo was minus-19 in Game 4 — the Heat outscored the Thunder by 19 when Sefolosha was on the court — but clearly Thabo needs to be on the court a ton, to help check LeBron James.
Durant and Westbrook were even — they both played more than 45 minutes, and when each was on the court, the score was tied. Perkins was a plus-four. Everyone else was a small minus.
The big lineup does not space the court as well as the small lineup, and using Ibaka with the big lineup takes away his chief asset — he’s forced to guard Shane Battier, usually, drawing him far from the basket, limiting his shot blocking. But the bulk that Perk and Ibaka, or Perk and Collison, or Collison and Ibaka provide, has paid dividends the last two games.
Maybe Perkins is right. Give the big lineup more court time in Game 5.
1 OKC Big: 8:43 (23-12)
OKC small: 3:17 (10-7)
2 OKC big: 0:00 (0-0) 23-12
OKC small: 12:00 (16-27) 26-34
3 OKC big: 5:28 (11-18) 34-30
OKC small: 6:32 (15-15) 41-49
4 OKC small: 12:00 (23-25) 64-74