When Thunder center Kendrick Perkins lost 32 pounds last off-season, the primary purpose was to take a load off his recently damaged knees. An added benefit was it made it easier for the 6-foot-10, 265-pound Perkins to defend on the perimeter.
Perkins is a rare bird, a big guy who prides himself on defense, no matter where on the court. He’ll defend monsters like 7-foot, 285-pound Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum. In Monday night’s 95-91 home victory over the world champion Dallas Mavericks, Perkins twice showed he’ll also do all he can to contain assassins like 6-foot-4, 210-pound shooting guard Jason Terry.
The Thunder put the defensive clamps on the Mavericks, holding them scoreless for the final 2:46 while going on an 8-0 run to seal the deal. Leading up to that moment, 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki had caught fire and hit all four of his 3-point attempts. Dallas predictably ran ball-screens in an effort to free up Nowitzki. Rather than help-and-recover, OKC defenders instead switched on screens, which teams frequently do in late-game situations. That left Perkins guarding Terry during two key possessions.
The first sequence had Perkins forcing Terry to drive to his left rather than his preferred right. Terry attempted a hurried, leaning, 15-footer prayer from the left wing than wound up being an airball for a shot-clock violation. The other sequence was along the right baseline, where Terry’s 12-footer barely got to the rim.
Even though Perkins didn’t score a point or grab a rebound in the fourth quarter (he did have one block), his presence was undeniable. Perkins is deceptively quick side-to-side with his feet, which is imperative for anyone who gives a hoot about playing defense.
It often takes all five players to make one player look good on defense. Perkins preaches that defensive stops come far more frequently when five guys are busting their hump rather than just one.
Everyone from Thunder coach Scott Brooks to general manager Sam Presti to the last guy on the OKC bench continually stresses Perkins’ importance despite his modest numbers on the stat sheet. Monday night might have been Exhibit A.