And we don't mean KD, Russ and James.
Oh, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden had fantastic games. Offensively, they were stellar. Defensively, they were solid.
But this game turned and this series ended because of Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison. What they did defensively against the Lakers' big men made the difference Game 5.
Thunder 106, Lakers 90.
Without Perk, Serge and Nick, there's a good chance this series would be headed back to Los Angeles for another game. There's a good chance the Lakers would've had new life. There's a good chance this series would've gone seven games.
Instead, it's so LA-LA-long Lakers.
“I thought they were the big three,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Perk, Serge and Nick. “The Lakers' bigs are as good of bigs as there are in basketball. They're skilled. They're big. They're long. They block shots.”
And Monday night, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol didn't determine the outcome of this game or this series.
That's what could've happened because you knew Kobe was going to go off.
And he did.
The Lakers' superstar poured everything he had into this elimination game. He hit crazy shots. He made ridiculous plays. He scored 42 points, and at times, he looked like he was about 10 years younger than he is. And really, that's what you'd expect from a guy who's as competitive as Bryant.
That meant this game was going to turn on the Laker bigs.
But it didn't turn the Lakers' way.
Even though Gasol played 44 minutes and Bynum played 34 minutes, they only combined to score 24 points and grab 20 rebounds. And in the second half when it mattered most, they combined to score only seven points.
“I didn't go away from them,” Laker coach Mike Brown said. “We tried to do the same thing in the second half as we did in the first half.”
The Thunder didn't allow it.
It didn't allow the Laker bigs to do damage on the offensive glass either. Gasol and Bynum managed only two offensive rebounds between the two of them. Both of those came from Gasol.
Yes, even though Bynum is 7-feet tall, he still managed to grab no offensive rebounds.
How is that possible?
“Obviously,” Laker coach Mike Brown said, “we needed more from him.”
Part of that was Bynum, who looked from the start like he was in one of his funky moods, but part of that was the Thunder big, especially Perk. He fronted Bynum and gave him fits.
“Perk just does a great job of outworking him,” Brown said.
Hard to argue that.
Remember, Perk is playing injured, too. He's going to be injured as long as the Thunder remains in the playoffs. That hip injury he suffered in Dallas isn't going to be completely healed until sometime in the offseason.
“But he's competing every day with it,” Brooks said.
Perk has that warrior mentality.
Ditto for Ibaka and Collison.
While the three of them were able to slow the Lakers' bigs, they were also able to help open up the Thunder offense. Without their rebounding and their defending, the Thunder would've struggled to get out in transition.
But that was rarely a problem in this series, and it certainly wasn't an issue in Game 5. The Thunder scored 30 fast-break points on Monday night to the Lakers' six.
Thirty points in transition.
That's not all a credit to the Thunder bigs. There were steals and deflections that lead to transition baskets, but a lot of those easy points were a result of fantastic interior defense by Perk, Serge and Nick.
“They've just been fighting all series,” Durant said. “They battled all series. You've got to tip your hat to them.
“They did things that don't show up on the stat sheet.”
Brooks said, “They've always been our unsung heroes.”
Monday night, they were the big three.