Scott Brooks made two declarations Sunday.
He will not change his starting lineup.
And he will not slash starting center Kendrick Perkins' minutes.
At this point, there's only marginal room for debate regarding the first decision. Multiple slow starts in this postseason more than prove the first unit isn't working and has run its course. But chemistry concerns have handicapped Brooks from pulling the trigger on tinkering with his first unit.
There is no excuse, though, for continuing to stick with Perkins so much. His value has diminished against Dallas.
And how ironic.
The man the Thunder shied away from at the trade deadline two seasons ago is now exposing the man it acquired at this year's deadline.
Mavs center Tyson Chandler is a nightmare matchup for Perkins. The 7-foot-1 Chandler is one of the most athletic big men in the league, and Perkins, a more plodding, traditional center, has had problems containing him.
In three games, Perkins has scored 15 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked three shots in 82 minutes. Chandler scored the same number of points in Game 2 alone, and in Game 3, Chandler pulled down one more rebound than Perkins has corralled all series.
The evidence runs even deeper.
In Perkins' 82 minutes of playing time, the Thunder has been outscored by 32 points. With Perk on the bench, the Thunder has outscored the Mavs by 23. Furthermore, with Chandler on the court, Perkins' plus/minus per 36 minutes is minus-17.7, according to NBA.com's StatsCube data.
Perkins has the worst plus/minus of any Thunder player in this series.
By comparison, the Mavs have outscored the Thunder by 19 points with Chandler on the court. And Chandler has made his impact mostly against Perkins, compiling a per 36-minute plus/minus of plus-17.7 with Perkins on the court and a minus-15.8 with Perkins on the bench.
A simple remedy would be to reduce Perkins' minutes.
The Mavs don't throw it in the post to Chandler, which makes Perkins' superb post defense nonexistent. Worse, Perkins is a non-factor offensively, which allows Chandler to sag off and provide help on the Thunder's slashers.
Still, Brooks is relying on Perkins just as much — and in some cases more — as more effective options Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison. In Games 1 and 3, Perkins played more than Collison, whose defense on Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki has been outstanding. But Brooks seems determined to stick with what's gotten his team this far and make the Mavs adjust rather than utilizing units that have done a number on Dallas.
Collison at power forward, for example, can slow down Nowitzki while Ibaka, if deployed at center, can match up better with Chandler's athleticism and supply weak side help and his game-changing shot blocking. With Ibaka spending much of his time trying to defend Nowitzki, though, Ibaka's shot blocking has plummeted, from 4.8 swats per game in the first round to just one a night in this conference final.
Another option is playing small in spurts and putting Kevin Durant at power forward and Collison at center. Though it leaves the Thunder at risk of losing rebounds, Durant could guard Chandler or Brendan Haywood, both nonthreatening offensive players, while Collison continues battling Nowitzki. It would allow another scorer such as James Harden or Daequan Cook to space the floor.
The Thunder has had success offensively playing small ball. But Brooks only uses it as a last-ditch option.
“I like to play big. I don't like to play small,” Brooks said. “The only time we play small is if we're down. That's not something I go into the game hoping, to play small. That means we're down 10 or 12 points and we have to generate points quickly.”
With Perkins, though, the Thunder isn't producing enough points or stops.
Not against this matchup. Not against these Mavericks.