As this wildly competitive first-round series heads back to Oklahoma City for a pivotal Game 5, the Thunder’s lead assignment is finding a way to get its All-Star back on track.
But OKC is not alone. The same task holds true for the Grizzlies.
The shooting struggles of both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have plagued the Thunder. But Zach Randolph’s extended slump has had nearly as big an effect on the Grizzlies’ sputtering offense.
And the Thunder has a rejuvenated Kendrick Perkins to thank for that.
OKC’s much-maligned big man is playing his most impactful basketball in a couple seasons. Perkins’ best days are far behind him. He’ll never again average a double-double, like he did back in 2009 during a 7-game Celtics-Bulls series. And he won’t be putting up any 16-point, 19-rebound, 7-block performances, like the one he compiled in Game 5 of that marathon.
But even without half the spring that many forget he once had, Perkins has held a heavy influence on this series. And beyond Reggie Jackson’s heroics, he may be the next biggest reason OKC was able to pull out a crucial Game 4.
Guarded primarily by Perkins all game, Randolph labored through a 5-of-14 shooting night. The two-time All-Star was so out of sorts that Memphis coach Dave Joerger actually benched him for much of the fourth quarter.
In the past two games, Randolph went 10-of-34 from the field. In the series, the career 47 percent shooter is at a 36 percent clip. His struggles have had a direct effect on the Grizzlies attack.
“We’re having a little bit of trouble getting the ball to Zach,” Marc Gasol said. “We have to get him the ball closer to the basket. We’re getting him the ball at 15 feet.”
Sounds like a Kendrick Perkins problem.
The Thunder big man — often lauded for his acute understanding of defensive positioning — has continually pushed the bruising Randolph off his preferred spots. It has forced him into low-percentage mid-range jumpers and a variety of tough, off-balance baseline floaters over a strong contest.