The game was tied at 93 with 4 1/2 minutes to play.
Oklahoma City was unexpectedly getting all it could handle from a scrappy Toronto squad on Sunday night.
An unblemished home record was on the line. The league’s best record was in peril.
And in that moment, Thunder coach Scott Brooks turned to Perry Jones III.
Brooks called on the second-year forward in a rare crunch time situation, trusting in him to help close out the game. Toronto ultimately stunned the Thunder, winning by six, but those final five minutes revealed the role Brooks envisions Jones filling.
“He’s like the guy that I think about on our team that can be our utility defender,” Brooks said.
Meet the path to Perry Jones’ playing time.
After minimal minutes as a rookie — just 280 over the course of 38 games — Jones is seeing spot minutes in his sophomore season. But he’s making the most of them, providing all-around contributions nearly each time he takes the court.
In the eight games in which Jones has logged at least 10 minutes, he’s averaged 6.1 points and 2.9 rebounds while shooting 52.6 percent. He’s made 5 of 12 3-pointers (41.6 percent), and the Thunder is 6-2 in those games.
But despite his world-class athleticism and tremendous potential, Brooks is asking him to focus on using his versatility to be a multipurpose defender.
Late in Sunday’s game, Brooks used Jones to better matchup with Raptors forwards DeMar DeRozan, John Salmons and Amir Johnson, a trio that stretches from 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-9 and poses problems due to their length and athleticism.
Jones was viewed as the equalizer.
“I felt that his length could affect some of their shots,” Brooks said. “I thought he did a good job.”
Jones contributed more good than bad in his crunch time minutes. He missed a corner 3-pointer that would have given OKC a one-point lead. But he grabbed an offensive rebound, which led to a trip to the foul line, and, most importantly, his man didn’t score.
“I felt good. I just went out there and just did what I could to the best of my abilities and defend,” Jones said.
Jones’ length and quickness, particularly his foot speed, is what gives him the potential to be a do-it-all defender.
“He can switch and he can guard (point guards) through (centers) for the most part. That’s pretty special,” said Thunder guard Reggie Jackson. “So when he’s out there, he’s comfortable switching with anybody. He’s aggressive. Now, he’s just got to get to the point where he has to play without thinking so much; putting so much pressure on himself. Just go out there and play like he’s playing in his backyard, just hoop.”
In the second quarter Sunday, when he scored six points in six minutes, Jones provided a preview of how he performs when he just relaxes and plays.
He ran the floor for an alley-oop dunk from Jackson.
He nailed a rhythmic catch-and-shoot jumper from the baseline.
He secured an offensive rebound off a Jeremy Lamb miss and converted a putback.
“It’s funny. We joke, especially here, about being young, dumb and athletic,” Jackson said. “We’ve seen some of those plays from him.”
Still, Jones is currently the 11th man in a 10-man rotation, the first victim of what could be the deepest team in Thunder history.
“This year, we probably have more (players) than we’ve ever had that are not playing NBA minutes that probably deserve to play,” Brooks said.
As he waits on few-and-far-between moments like Sunday’s, Jones tries to keep his mind right. He thinks to himself each night might be the night he gets 15 to 20 minutes every night.
“That’s the way I stay mentally prepared,” he said.
Sunday was another small step toward it paying off.
“All the work that he’s putting in isn’t for nothing,” Jackson said. “It’s going to happen.”