Against the Rockets or Pacers — who feature Dwight Howard and Roy Hibbert — Kendrick Perkins has proven to be useful, even vital. He’s an effective post defender that can disrupt rhythm and doesn’t need double-teams.
But against the small-ball Heat, Kendrick Perkins has proven to be a liability. An offensive space killer and defensive mismatch waiting to happen.
We’ve been given a mounting pile of evidence to back this up, the latest coming in the opening minutes in Miami on Wednesday night, when the Heat stormed out to a 15-2 lead before Perkins was finally lifted from the game.
But then Scott Brooks finally pulled the trigger on an adjustment, in the past, he’d been reluctant to make: He kept Perkins on the bench for the rest of the game.
And in addition, Brooks went small with the rest of his rotation, playing Jeremy Lamb 35 minutes, Perry Jones 30, Nick Collison only 13 and Steven Adams only two. And it paid off, with OKC outscoring Miami 108-73 after a rough 22-4 start.
In this week’s edition of Thunder Film Room, let’s take a closer look at the crucial coaching decision that could have ripple effects should these two meet in a potential NBA Finals matchup.
To do so, let’s isolate the game into 10 key minutes — the five minutes that Perkins played in the first half and the five minutes that Perkins typically would have, but didn’t play to start the second.
Offense – Perk in the game
Because of Miami’s unique and versatile starting five, with no real starting center, they commonly dictate matchups in their favor. And defensively, against the Thunder starters, that starts with Shane Battier. Battier is one of the league’s best help-side defenders, making a career out of his terrific knowledge of the game and a willingness to give up his body. Against OKC, the Heat put Battier on Perkins. And I use the term ‘put’ loosely. Battier is basically a rover, completely unconcerned with Perkins’ limited offensive game. It becomes a four on five, with Battier roaming around trying to cause havoc. Just check him out, in the top left of your screen, on this first video:
And in this second video, watch how Battier’s ability to float off Perkins can disrupt the flow of the Thunder offense. Kevin Durant blows by LeBron on the drive, but Battier, paying no attention to Perkins’ whereabouts, has already made the quick rotation over. It leads to an obvious charge, which eventually led to some early foul trouble for KD:
Below is another failed OKC possession in the opening minutes. And again, it all starts with the Battier-Perkins matchup. The Thunder runs one of its common sets, using Perkins as a swing man at the top of the key. Against other teams, the opposing center typically backs off Perkins that far from the hoop, figuring he’s not a threat. But Battier, a small forward, takes a different route. A more disruptive tone. He hounds Perkins like it’s a 7th Grade CYO press, knowing full well the big man can’t dribble by him. It nearly leads to a steal, and eventually sets in motion a stagnant play and shot clock violation:
Offense – Perk not on the floor
In the second half, Perry Jones replaced Perkins in the lineup. And it paid immediate dividends, with the Heat failing to make counter adjustments. Take a look at the play below. Battier, now guarding Jones, is on the left block, with his sole focus remaining help-side defense. As Reggie Jackson drills Serge Ibaka with a pass near the opposite elbow, Battier sprints to Chris Bosh’s aid, leaving Jones like he left Perkins. Problem is, PJ3 is for more of an offensive threat, particularly from that right corner, where he’s 5/6 this season. Ibaka recognizes it, kicking to Thabo Sefolosha, who then swings it to a wide open Jones in the corner. An easy three points.
The next play is another example of the Heat’s help (overhelp?) coming back to burn them and the Thunder’s improved Perkins-less spacing boosting their scoring potential. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka set up for a pick and roll, but as they do, you can see the entire Miami defense anticipate and begin to collapse. KD recognizes it and cross-courts it to a wide-open Thabo (joined by an equally wide-open Jackson) and he drains another three.
When cranked up, the Heat defense is a menace to try to score on. They rotate and close-out as quickly as anyone in the league. But when you have five offensive threats on the floor, including the world’s best scorer, and move the ball like this, you’re bound to get solid looks:
Defense – Perk on the court
As I mentioned in the opening, Kendrick Perkins has shown his worth against big guys like Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard. And there’s a handful of other centers (Marc Gasol, Nikola Pekovic, etc.) he also bothers. But Chris Bosh is certainly not one of them. Miami’s sharpshooting 7-footer lives on the perimeter, firing in jumpers from 15 feet out to the 3-point line. Bosh hasn’t utilized a post game (Perkins best defensive asset) since his Toronto days. And because of that, plays like this happen. Bosh, having lured Perkins out to a foreign area, uses a quick pump-fake and his superior lateral quickness to cruise by him for an easy jam:
Also, with Perkins on Bosh, it forces Serge Ibaka, the Thunder’s best rim protector, to chase Shane Battier around the perimeter. It’s a less than ideal matchup for Serge and, when the Heat offense is humming, can lead to a variety of open threes. Check out this play from early in the game. Serge overhelps on a Dwyane Wade drive, leading to an open three, which Battier doesn’t take. But because of that, the Thunder defense is left scrambling, which eventually leads to another Battier open look, this one he knocks down:
Here’s a couple other plays from that monumental Heat run early in the game. The first is a Bosh jumper, coming off a Battier pick, in which Perk and Ibaka get a bit confused. And the next is a simple matter of Bosh beating Perkins down the court for an easy layup:
Defense – Perk not on the court
To start the second half, the Thunder shifted to more comfortable, natural defensive matchups. Ibaka started on Bosh. Kevin Durant, in foul trouble, was able to rest on Shane Battier. And Perry Jones, a versatile 6-foot-11 small forward, was tasked with containing LeBron James. Jones has actually turned into a pretty good defender, and he made it hard on LeBron in the second half, even when The King was drilling tough fadeaways like this one:
Overall, implanting Jones with the starters allowed for the Thunder to play the Heat offense with more athleticism. Longer wingspan. Quicker rotations. More disruption. It was an adjustment the Heat didn’t seem ready for and played a key role in Miami’s 21 turnovers. An example:
The importance of these 10 minutes can’t be understated. In the first five minutes to start the game, with Perkins, OKC was outscored by 13. In the first five to start the second half, without Perkins, OKC outscored the Heat by five. That’s an 18-point swing in a 17-point Thunder win.