Kendrick Perkins plays basketball angry. Plays mad. Invents enemies to keep himself all lathered up.
That's why Perk scowls. Why he glares. Why he backs down from no confrontation and often accelerates them. That's why I call him Gran Torino. Why he yelled at the TNT broadcast crew early in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
Perk was mad, all right, but the truth is, he was mad at himself. Disgusted. Embarrassed.
The Thunder's two losses in San Antonio ripped at the core of Perkins' identity. The Spurs sliced up the Thunder defense, shooting 60.2 percent from the field over the last five quarters. And Perkins didn't like it. Didn't like it one little bit.
“I was disappointed in my Game 2 performance as far as … being the defensive anchor, what I've been all season,” Perkins said. “I just wanted to go out there and do what I need to do and try to stop their pick and roll.”
You know what happened. Perkins and his pals put a clamp on the high-riding Spurs. San Antonio shot 39.5 percent from the field, committed 21 turnovers and was blasted 102-82.
The Thunder played with energy and commitment and dedication to that defensive-mindedness that franchise leaders always babble about. But mostly, the Thunder played with pride.
You see, that's really what Perkins has. Pride. He's a prideful man. He believes in things like honor and duty and doing your job. And he's not too diplomatic about letting someone know when they fall short of those ideals. Even when it's himself.
So Thursday night, Perkins was ready to make amends.
“I don't think Perk played well (in San Antonio), and he understands that,” Scotty Brooks said. “Perk has a lot of pride in his ability and what he brings to this team. We don't win games without Perk. He's the anchor on the defensive end. He brings toughness. He has leadership.”
This is what leadership looks like. Admitting your own failures. Vowing to do better. Imploring teammates to do the same.
And the Thunder responded. Every Boomer played lockdown defense. Thabo Sefolosha was masterful in taking on the Tony Parker assignment. Russell Westbrook didn't treat it like a demotion to be moved off Parker, instead playing the passing lanes like Deion Sanders played cornerback. Perk and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison accepted the challenge of switching on screens and guarding San Antonio magicians Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Perkins went from battling Tim Duncan on the block to guarding Parker 17 feet from the basket and prompting a missed jumper.
“He came back and … was exceptional,” Brooks said. “He played every possession hard, with a lot of force. He was energized. When you have Parker and Ginobili coming at you, those aren't easy guys to stay in front of for a guard, forward or a big.”