There were lots of shocking numbers to come out of the Thunder’s fourth-quarter collapse on Sunday afternoon.
The Thunder blew a 16-point lead in the last nine minutes of the game. The Clippers scored on 18 of 19 possessions down the stretch.
And the fire was fueled by easy basket after easy basket, including two dunks and six uncontested layups.
But here’s a number as appalling as any: 00:00.
That’s the number of minutes played in the fourth quarter by Kendrick Perkins.
No Thunder player has filled his role any better than Perk in these playoffs. He is a defensive doberman, a rim protector, and he has done those two jobs as well as anyone could ask.
He handcuffed Zach Randolph in the first round, neutralized DeAndre Jordan in this round, all the while providing a last line of defense at the basket.
Perk has drawn praise from friend and foe alike, no one more than his coach. But Scott Brooks chose to leave Perk on the bench as the Clippers turned crunch time of Sunday’s game into a layup drill.
After practice Monday, I asked Brooks about Perk.
Did Brooks give any thought to putting Perk back in the game as the Clippers got one contested layup after another?
“That’s the good thing about our team,” Brooks said. “We can throw many guys out there. Everybody has to be on that defensive mentality mindset. They threw a small lineup (Friday), and we scored 32 and they only scored 22 in that fourth quarter.”
I could’ve stopped Brooks and reminded him that clearly Friday’s game was different than Sunday’s, but I let him go on talking about having confidence in all of his guys.
When he finished, I asked my original question again.
So, no thought of putting Perk back in the game to stem the tide?
“They’re both good rim protectors,” Brooks said of Perk and Serge Ibaka. “Serge is one of the league leaders in blocks. They both can do that. You have to be able to pick one.”
Two things. First, Ibaka can do a great job protecting the rim, but he sure wasn’t doing a great job in the fourth quarter Sunday. Second, who says putting in Perk meant taking out Ibaka?
Yes, the Clippers were using a small and extremely unconventional lineup that coach Doc Rivers admitted after the game was coaching desperation, not coaching genius. He had Chris Paul, Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford, Danny Granger and Blake Griffin on the court, a combination that Rivers wasn’t sure he’d ever had on the floor together.
No doubt that funky lineup forced the Thunder’s hand a bit, but still, having Perk and Ibaka together on the floor couldn’t have hurt.
Couldn’t have been any worse.
The conventional wisdom is that the Thunder would’ve been sacrificing offense by putting back on the floor, but the truth is, the Thunder outscored the Clippers by 22 points with Perk on the floor Sunday. The defense was better, and that led to better offense, including fast breaks and easy points.
But even if Perk would’ve hurt the offense in the fourth quarter, scoring points wasn’t the Thunder’s problem. Keeping the Clippers from scoring them by the bushel was. In the final nine minutes of the game, Los Angeles hit 13 shots, and most of them were easy ones. Only three shots were longer than five feet.
“We just relaxed,” Thunder superstar Kevin Durant said. “The defensive intensity wasn’t as great as it should’ve been.”
You suppose Perk might’ve ramped up the defensive intensity, made the Clippers think twice on some of those drives to the basket, maybe even put a forearm into someone had the layup drill continued?
Yeah, I suspect he would’ve, too.
Listen, it’s entirely possible that the Thunder would’ve still lost Sunday with Perk on the court, but as good as this guy has been on the defensive end in these playoffs, it’s difficult to imagine that the shots would’ve come as easily for the Clippers.
You know that Rivers and the Clippers are going to try to find a way to replicate that end-of-game success Tuesday night and beyond. But if the conga line to the basket starts again, the Thunder has a capable party crasher in Perk.
But he has to be on the court, not the bench.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.