The guy who plays “Eastern Conference basketball” had five dunks Sunday night. Strangely enough, that was good news for the Thunder against the Miami Heat.
Kendrick Perkins, who now plays on a greyhound team but remains the brute he was in Boston, turned his aggression to offense as well as defense, kept catching passes for easy baskets, mostly from Kevin Durant, and the Thunder rolled 103-87 in a game that restored its reputation for quality play.
The Thunder got 10 dunks, only two on breakaways. The Boomers moved the ball with precision and found not just the open man, but even better. An open big man, close to the basket.
“If we're getting dunks, it's a function of good offensive play,” said Nick Collison. “It's a good sign for our team.”
This was a heck of a sign for a team that has played just so-so since the all-star break. But the Thunder played superbly Sunday night.
The Heat, defensive demons who like to double-team off screens, paid the price for such tactics. Durant, especially, but James Harden and Russell Westbrook, too, made Miami pay. The Thunder trio combined for 20 assists.
“Our bigs were doing a great job separating,” Scotty Brooks said. “Taking big steps. Our bigs were open.
“We played as physical as we could possibly play.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the Thunder played not just aggressively, but with the “details of playing with force.”
Serge Ibaka had 19 points and 10 rebounds. But Ibaka, you expect to get 19 points on occasion. You never plan on Perkins getting 16.
“He brought his game that we are familiar with,” Spoelstra said. “It is Eastern Conference basketball. It wasn't just him. But to a man on that team, they got us on our heels on both ends of the court.”
Perkins always is good for clogging the paint, and he was again Sunday, not allowing Dwyane Wade and LeBron James easy access to the basket. But Gran Torino also played with a mean streak on offense, setting hard screens, then heading for the basket with purpose.
“I always take pride in setting good picks to get Kevin open,” Perk said. “He was just hitting me with the pass. I had it in my mind, set a good pick, and I'll get the ball. It's a good thing to know you will get the ball.”
It wasn't just Durant passing to Perkins, though five of his eight baskets came off Durant feeds. But Westbrook fed Durant, Collison and Perkins for dunks. Perkins fed Ibaka. Ibaka fed Perkins.
Think of those odds. Entering the game, Perkins had 16 dunks and Ibaka 20 assists all season.
“Our bigs were really good,” Brooks said. “Our big-to-big passing was probably the best so far this season.”
Count Durant among the big boys. When he plays like this, the Thunder is hard to beat. On a night when Durant was the game's high scorer (28 points), missed by one being the game's top rebounder (he had nine) and played solid defense on LeBron, Durant's most impressive trait was his passing.
“It was one of his best all-around games,” Brooks said. “One thing I tell Kevin, he has to become more of a playmaker. The good teams are not going to allow him to load up and get scores.”
Durant is listening. He's up to 3.6 assists per game, and this was his third straight game with at least five assists, all Thunder victories.
He had five assists to Perkins alone Sunday night. That's a recipe for beating not just the Heat, but any team in the NBA.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.