I’m the last guy who needs more evidence for DeAndre Liggins’ effectiveness.
But after Game 4 on Monday night I got more.
When Kendrick Perkins picked up his second foul two minutes, 52 seconds into the opening period, Liggins unexpectedly popped off the Thunder bench. He replaced Perk and immediately provided great energy.
Liggins finished with three points, five rebounds and one steal in 14 minutes.
And some sensational defense on Rockets forward Chandler Parsons.
Parsons, remember, was the best player Houston had Monday night. He scored a team-high 27 points. He grabbed 10 big boards. He dished a game-high eight assists. He made 11 of 21 shots and three of six 3-pointers in 41 minutes. He was a complete hand full.
For everyone except for Liggins.
Statistics from NBA.com/stats confirm what seemed to be clear on the court: Liggins wasn’t just good guarding Parsons, he was great.
In 32 minutes with Liggins on the bench, Parsons scored 21 points on 56.3 percent shooting. He had seven rebounds, six assists and was a plus-8.
In nine minutes with Liggins on the court, Parsons scored six points on 40 percent shooting. He had three rebounds and two assists and was a minus-3.
So what are we to make of those numbers?
Liggins needs to play more, of course.
What did you expect? Look who’s writing this.
But, seriously, Parsons quite possibly has been the second best player in this series. James Harden has been neutralized thanks in large part to some stellar defense supplied by Thabo Sefolosha. Now, the Thunder has to find a way to eliminate Parsons’ impact.
I’ll never doubt Kevin Durant’s ability to do anything on a basketball court. But with so much offensive responsibility now that Westbrook’s out, Durant can’t afford to dedicate all of his energy to the defensive end.
If the Thunder is going to succumb to the Rockets’ style and play small in this series anyway, Scott Brooks might as well stick with Liggins for as long as possible. Sefolosha can continue slowing Harden. Liggins can be assigned to Parsons. That would leave Durant on lesser players like Carlos Delfino and/or Francisco Garcia for longer stretches.
The drawback is Liggins’ defense would come at the expense of the Thunder’s offense. It’s a big drawback and one that the Thunder might not be able to get away with. Because of the way the Rockets are loading up on Durant, the Thunder absolutely must have shooters spacing the court around the arc.
A lineup of Reggie Jackson, Liggins, Sefolosha, Durant and any big man puts enormous pressure on Durant to score.
But if Jackson can revert to being the slasher and finisher at the rim that he proved he can be late in the regular season, while Liggins and Sefolosha make the Rockets pay for sagging off, it just might be an adjustment the Thunder can get away with.