Kendrick Perkins needs to be more physical.
Never thought I'd be writing those words, especially not during the playoffs.
The Thunder big man is the quintessential tough guy. He's got the intimidating scowl, the bulging muscles and the menacing intensity, and while we've seen all of it repeatedly in regular-season games since he was traded from Boston to Oklahoma City, what we've really been waiting for was the playoffs.
This was when Perk was supposed to take it up another notch. He was going to be that missing piece, that physical presence, that playoffs difference-maker.
Then during Game 1 against the Nuggets, there were times when you wondered if Thunder coach Scott Brooks should stick with Nazr Mohammed and leave Perkins on the bench.
Other than his tip-in that shouldn't have been — a blown basket-interference call that enraged the Nuggets on Sunday night and prompted an NBA statement Monday afternoon — Perkins was largely an afterthought.
Not exactly what we expected from Playoff Perk.
“Probably didn't have one of my best games,” Perkins said Monday afternoon.
His frustration was obvious to everyone inside the Oklahoma City Arena. Several times, he furrowed his brow or shook his head in disgust.
That reaction was totally understandable. The Nuggets opened the game by hitting their first seven shots against the Thunder defense, and three of those baskets came in the paint.
That's the paint that Perkins patrols.
The last of those points in the paint came on a Nene dunk. He went strong to the rim, posterized Perk, then stared him down.
Wasn't Perkins supposed to be the one giving Nene the evil eye?
“I thought our defense in the first half sucked as far as the effort that we put into it,” Perkins said.
True enough. The Nuggets scored half of their 60 first-half points in the paint. That's too many easy shots. That's often going to be a recipe for disaster.
No doubt interior defense is everyone's responsibility. The guards have to deny passes and stop penetration while the posts have to muscle up and stand firm. But those areas are where Perkins normally shines.
Instead, Nene was a star in Game 1, scoring 22 points, hitting 9 of 11 shots and throwing down five dunks.
Listen, the Nuggets big man is no stiff. His footwork is outstanding. His leaping is impressive. His ability to get to the rim — and get there quickly — is as good as anyone who's 6-foot-11, 250 pounds.
“We have to push him off that area that he's very comfortable in,” Brooks said. “He's strong. We've got to just fight him better.”
Push him? Be strong? Fight better?
Sounds like a job for Kendrick Perkins.
Listen, I understand that Nene isn't a great matchup for Perkins, who moves like a locomotive first pulling out of the station. Get too physical with Nene, and he can hurt you with his quickness. Spin away. Create space. Dunk on your head.
But Perk has been doing this long enough to know how to toe the line. During Game 1, his level of physicality didn't even put him near the line. Sometimes, he was so far from the line that he couldn't even see it.
“Early in the game, I thought he gave up a basket or two he usually does not give up as easily,” Brooks said. “But late in the game, he made three big plays that were critical for us winning the game.”
Perkins blocked a Kenyon Martin shot as the Thunder were wresting the lead from the Nuggets for the first time. Then in the fourth quarter, he defender a screen and roll to perfection and made a switch on Danilo Gallinari that forced a turnover.
“He probably doesn't feel great about the way he played,” Brooks said, “but he made plays at the end of the game to help us win.”
Perkins said, “I had to do something to try to impact the game.”
Physical Perk worked down the stretch Sunday night. How about a little more of it in Game 2 and beyond?
I'm not convinced Nene can handle it. Skilled, he is. Tough, he is not.
Perkins is supposed to be the missing link in the middle. He is supposed to be the permanent fix for a franchise that has only had temporary solutions since moving to Oklahoma City. Nenad Krstic. Etan Thomas. Joe Smith. Steven Hill. Johan Petro. Robert Swift. Those guys were brought in simply to fill the gap.
Perkins was brought in to knock some skulls.
No better time than the present.