My first post-game email after the Thunder’s 87-81 loss to the Grizzlies concerned someone bashing Kendrick Perkins. So might as well get right to it. Seems like it’s all anyone cares about.
So, OK. Perk played 16:51, after playing 34:16 and 24:13 the first two games of this series.
With Perkins, the Thunder had 31 possessions and scored 20 points. Memphis had 31 possessions and scored 26 points.
Without Perkins, the Thunder had 63 possessions and scored 61 points. Memphis had 62 possessions and scored 61 points.
So clearly, Scotty Brooks has a choice to make. Sit Perkins, and score better but pay for it on the defensive end. Or play Perkins and figure out a way to score with Gran Torino on the court.
The Thunder’s 0.97 points per possession, even without Perkins, is way under normal. But it’s about the best OKC can hope for against this tough Memphis defense.
It appeared the Thunder did a decent job with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Game 3, and that’s true. Gasol and Randolph combined for two offensive rebounds and 10-of-24 shooting.
With his small lineup – playing only one of Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison or Perkins at a time – Brooks clearly can count on better offense. Small ball averaged 1.0 point per possession in Game 3; the traditional lineup averaged 0.67 points per possessions. Which is awful.
But Kevin Durant scored better with the big lineup. He made five of eight shots with the big lineup; Durant made four of 11 with the small lineup.
With the smaller lineup, Durant looks to pass, naturally, because he has more scorers to pass to. But what if that’s not what the Thunder needs? What if the Thunder needs Durant to shoot just as often as he can?
* Now’s as good a time as any to look at usage rates. Usage is the number of possessions a player uses, either by shot, foul shot or turnover.
In Game 3, Durant had 26 usages. Ibaka had 19. Kevin Martin had 18. Reggie Jackson had 17. Derek Fisher had 11.
The Thunder will be hard-pressed to beat Memphis in a game, much less the series, with Durant’s usage in the 20s. Durant had 34 usages in Game 1.
* Durant’s defense on Gasol down the stretch was solid. Really solid. Gasol tried to back down Durant and was successful a couple of times. But the Thunder basically avoided getting hurt by going small. The problem was on the other end. For example, the Thunder didn’t make Memphis pay for using Randolph to guard Fisher.
“I think it went good,” Durant said of guarding Gasol. “We tried to push him out. My teammates helped out. Other than those two free throws (with 1:03 left, which broke an 81-81 tie), he didn’t score easy on us. He didn’t get many offensive rebounds. There are so many things we can do with a small lineup. I think we did a good job.”
* But it’s clear that Brooks is on the right track. The Thunder is going to have to sacrifice defense for offense. Here are the plus/minus numbers through three games.
Durant is even. Fisher is plus 13. Martin is plus 14, even though he hasn’t shot it all that well. Ibaka is minus three. Collison is minus four. Thabo Sefolosha is minus 16. Jackson is minus 21. Perkins is minus 24.
Brooks can’t sell out to offense. He’s got to start with defense, just to avoid foul trouble on the likes of Durant and Ibaka, if nothing else. But Brooks played it good in Game 3 – picked his spots in the first half, then went offense-heavy in the second half.
The Grizzlies aren’t good enough offensively to make the Thunder pay heavily for a defensive-deficient lineup. You’ve got to find some points against Memphis, so Brooks’ rotations in Game 3 were spot on. The Thunder just didn’t make enough shots to make it work.
Start Thabo on Mike Conley, start Perk on Gasol, but eventually move to offense.
“Everything was good other than we couldn’t make a basket,” Brooks said. “Eighty-eight shot attempts, and we got pretty good luck. We missed a couple easy, easy, easy (baskets). I wish we could get those same shots. Give them credit. They made plays down the stretch. That’s playoff basketball.”
* ESPN Stats & Information pointed out that the Thunder had 21 close shots in the first half – within five feet or closer – but just seven in the second half. You’ll remember, of course, that OKC scored 45 points in the first half and looked halfway decent on offense. Then the Thunder scored 36 points in the second half.
I know it’s tempting to stay away from the tall trees and rocky boulders. But the Thunder has to get the ball inside.
* Ibaka and Kevin Martin combined to take 34 shots – and just two foul shots. Ibaka got two foul shots less than four minutes into the game, and that came on a fast-break opportunity. So in halfcourt offense, Martin and Ibaka never got to the foul line.
“We didn’t get to the free-throw line other than KD,” Brooks said of Durant, who had nine of the Thunder’s 19 foul shots. “We have to somehow get to the free-throw line. We’ve always been a good free throw shooting team. We didn’t make them at the percentage we’d like (12 of 19), but we didn’t get there as much as we’re accustomed to getting there.”
* Remember when Jerryd Bayless was considered a possible Thunder draft pick. It was the 2008 draft, OKC had the fourth pick and Bayless, out of Arizona, seemed a possibility. Instead, the Thunder took Russell Westbrook and that seemed to turn out reasonably well, if you like all-NBA, all-star point guards who give your franchise an identity and the ability to combat the Memphis defense with speed and will.
Anyway, Bayless eventually slipped to 11th, taken by Indiana and then traded to Portland. Bayless has bounced around; Portland, New Orleans, Toronto and now Memphis. He’s made just 40 career starts in five NBA seasons.
Bayless for Memphis this season has been an adequate sixth man, averaging 8.7 points a game. But he torched OKC for 20 points in a Memphis overtime victory in March. Then he did it again in the first half of Game 3.
Bayless rifled in a 19-footer to close the first quarter. Then Bayless opened the second quarter with a 17-footer and a 20-footer; Memphis led 26-18. Finally, three possessions later, Bayless nailed another 20-footer, and Memphis led 28-18, the day’s only double-digit lead.
Then Bayless got too confident and started firing up 3-pointers; only one found the mark, and he finished 5-of-13 shooting. But that early salvo put the Thunder in a hole.
* Tony Allen’s defense is really making a difference. Durant abused Tayshaun Prince early, but Allen eventually put a stop to that.
“Tony has given us a lot more than what people expect,” Conley said. “Defensively, he obviously is going to do what he does defensively. Offensively, he has been making extra possessions for us by getting offensive rebounds, pushing on the break and getting to the line. Anything we can get from TA in that sense is huge for us. That is really how it has been all playoffs. He has been huge.”
Allen had 14 points in Game 3, 11 in the first half. Allen scored 12 points in Game 2. When Tony Allen is reaching double digits, and Ibaka and Martin need 17 shots each to reach 13 points, the Thunder is in trouble.
* Now you know what NBA people mean when they talk about the Grizzlies as being tough.
“We just gutted it out,” said coach Lionel Hollins. “We defended and we defended. We held them to 36 percent. They shot 27 percent from the 3-point line and missed some free throws down the stretch. We just stayed after it like we’ve done all year long. It’s not always pretty. We just go out and compete. I told them after the game, I said, ‘I got a crazy, crazy, crazy bunch of competitive guys.’”
* Durant’s 5-of-9 night from the foul line – including two misses with 39.3 seconds left and the Thunder down just 85-81 – is a clear indication that Durant, by game’s end, is wearing down physically and mentally. He’s carrying a mighty load.
“The decision to play Kevin a lot of minutes is easy,” Brooks said. “He’s a pretty good player. He had plenty of rest in the timeouts. So that wasn’t a factor. His energy was good. He rebounded. He passed. He made some shots. He got to the free-throw line.”
* The good news for OKC: all three games have been one-possession affairs with 90 seconds left. Anybody’s ballgame.
“We put ourselves – all three games – to be in the game, to win the game,” Brooks said. “We’ve one and lost two. We’ve got to strap it up and come Monday and compete the way we’ve completed the last three games.”