Kendrick Perkins returned Thursday night, and suddenly all seemed right in the ThunderWorld.
The Thunder seemed tough again. The Thunder didn’t give up easy shots at the baskets. The Thunder played with a defensive edge.
OKC beat the Spurs 106-94 Thursday night and reminded us what made the Thunder an NBA contender. The offensive brilliance of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, coupled with tenacious defense.
Tim Duncan certainly could have used Perkins to sit out awhile longer with a groin strain.
Perkins played 12 minutes; the first 51/2 minutes of the game and the first 61/2 minutes of the second half.
In those 12 minutes, Duncan scored seven points on 2-of-7 shooting, with 3-of-4 foul shooting. Duncan’s final basket came on an 18-footer as the shot clock wound down with Serge Ibaka guarding, off a switch.
Duncan played 16:17 with Perkins on the bench. He was 3-of-8 shooting with Perkins sitting out and went 4-of-4 from the foul line.
When Perkins went out of the game in the first quarter, the Thunder trailed 14-6, mainly because of offensive ineptitude. OKC missed seven of its first 10 shots. But the Thunder went on a 17-7 run with Perkins in the game to open the third quarter.
Perkins played 22 defensive possessions. The Spurs scored 21 points on those 22 possessions.
That’s good defense. It’s not great defensive efficiency. But it’s good.
But more than production, Perkins brought a feel back to the game.
Almost a vibe that, OK, vacation’s over. Let’s start playing again.
Remember those ridiculous defensive efforts against the Clippers and Cavaliers and Mavericks?
None of that was apparent Thursday night. Perk even shoved Duncan after they became entangled; Perkins had Duncan wrapped up and didn’t let go all that quickly. Duncan pushed Gran Torino’s arm down, so Perk shoved Duncan. Perkins got a quick technical foul, then the officials conferred and call a tech on Duncan, too, even though Perkins was the instigator.
“Every team needs that,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s an enforcer. He’s got an edge. He’s got a toughness. He plays not to take any prisoners kind of thing. That’s great for a team.”
Perkins didn’t do much of anything offensively – and that’s a good thing. No shots. One turnover. Maybe he set some good screens, I don’t know. Don’t really care. The Thunder needs Perkins’ defense.
“He’s been out a lot,” Popovich said. “He probably doesn’t have his rhythm and that kind of thing.”
Perkins is a lightning rod. His offensive limitations make him an easy target when things go wrong. But when Perkins plays, the Thunder defense goes right. Post players get shoved far from the basket. The pick’n roll isn’t very smooth. Thunder defenders tend to get where they’re supposed to be.
It’s not a coincidence. The Thunder needs Perk to win this NBA title.