In the playoffs last April, the Thunder's Kendrick Perkins was a liability against Houston's run-and-gun attack. He barely played and, when he did, he was ineffective.
But the personnel has changed. And with it, so has this matchup.
The Rockets picked up perennial All-Star Dwight Howard in the offseason, a signing that vaulted them into contender status.
But in doing so, Houston has turned Perkins from overplayed liability to invaluable defensive anchor.
And on Sunday night in OKC, that change was on full display.
The Thunder throttled the Rockets 117-86. A 31-point whooping that looked as bad as it sounds.
Dwight Howard came in averaging 18 points on 59 percent shooting. The Rockets came in averaging 106 points on nearly 48 percent from the field, third best in the NBA.
But on Sunday, Houston scored 86 points on less than 37 percent shooting. And Howard scored only nine during a rough 4-of-13 night.
Much of that was due to Kendrick Perkins.
“We counted on Perk to play one-on-one against Dwight,” Reggie Jackson said. “It's a challenge he wanted and he accepted.”
And in doing so, needing no help, Perkins unleashed the Thunder's lanky wing defenders all over the perimeter.
While Perkins stoned Howard on a variety of post moves, even blocking his shot during the Thunder's impressive 13-0 run to start the game, his teammates were free to pressure Houston's shooters. To deny passing lanes. To overplay tendencies.
“We just got a chance to play our own man, limit the kick-outs and let Perk do what he does down there,” Jackson said.
The Rockets were playing their fourth game in five nights. They looked lost at the start and tired throughout.
But regardless of the scheduling disadvantage, it was easy to see Perkins' potential value in a possible series with Houston.
Dwight Howard magnifies Perkins' greatest quality — low-post defense.
“Any time there's a guy who is supposedly one of the best low-post scorers on the block, I get excited,” Perkins said. “I want to see what it's all about.”
And we finally did on Sunday night, with Perkins getting a rare chance to flash his worth.
“He's a pretty good defender,” Howard said. “Plays hard, plays aggressive and he does everything they ask him to do.”
“They definitely were a lot better defensively tonight than they were last year,” Chandler Parsons admitted.
Might have to do with the personnel change in Houston.