Kendrick Perkins shaved his legs for this?!? (Getty Images)
The last time Kendrick Perkins was in the NBA Finals, he wasn't in the NBA Finals. We're probably going to have to be mindful of that moving forward. Prior to last Tuesday's Game 1 — a game that saw heaps of Twitter chatterers roundly criticizing the play of Kendrick Perkins both in game and following — the last time we saw the man in front of that massive Finals logo he was sitting on the Boston Celtics bench after tearing knee ligaments in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals. This means Perkins had to sit out Game 7. This means he had to watch, as Pau Gasol's crucial offensive rebound pushed the series' deciding game in Los Angeles' favor. This means he was as helpless as any one of the Boston rooters that weren't amongst the five on the floor at the time.
This means we'll have to take it easy on Perk, while he vents and complains, following yet another game that saw the Oklahoma City Thunder go away from him in the final minutes. The final 18 minutes of the contest, to be exact, a jaunt that saw the Miami Heat outscore the Thunder by two points while Perk watched from the sideline. Which had to be hard, considering the team was +11 with him on the court for the first nine minutes of the first quarter, even if we attempt to forget the fact that the team was -7 with Perkins on the court in that six-minute third-quarter turn. Whatever we remember, or forget, Perkins is a wee bit upset. From Daily Thunder:
"I just don't understand why we start out the first quarter the way we did, with the lineup that we had, and all of a sudden we change and adjust to what they had going on. So they won the last three quarters, and that's what happened."
This was a vent, after yet another close loss that could have gone either way, with Perkins again probably thinking that his presence on the floor may have swung the game. Kendrick has played just six minutes combined in each of the Finals' fourth quarters, with all but 12 seconds of that run coming in Game 3. And he doesn't like the pattern. And, because he cares, it's understandable and we should let him vent. Even if he'd modify his comments after toweling off during an off day between games.
The Thunder did "adjust to what they had going on," as you're supposed to when a team like Miami stops acting hesitant with its offense and making the sort of quick decisions that lead to nailed shots, as the Heat accomplished in coming back from an early deficit in Game 4. It's not as if the Thunder, in the midst of their fantastic start to Game 4, suddenly decided that it was time to start matching up with the smaller and quicker Heat; leading to the three-quarter failure. No, it's just that a very good and championship-worthy Heat team got its act together, and everything returned to the mean. A mean that, four games and 16 quarters in, means a very close game between two fantastic teams.
And, to continue on this thread, it's not as if Perk doesn't know this.
He thinks it can be modified, in a way that probably coincidentally hands him more minutes along the way, and he wouldn't be wrong in that assumption. Few players are. How it translates, though, is the problem. Because though we respect Perkins' best attributes and the luxury Oklahoma City has with their starting center, employing a master of low-post defense in a contest that features absolutely no centers or power forwards that are going to the low post means that the luxury should be wearing warm-ups.
It's at this point that most will recall one of the bigger upsets, I suppose, in NBA history. When the 67-win Dallas Mavericks, fully healthy, were upended by the eight-seeded Golden State Warriors in 2007. Mavericks center Erick Dampier started 73 of the 76 games he played in, that season, but by the time the first round rolled around the Mavericks decided to go small to match up with the apparently inferior Warriors. And it didn't work. And because the unsteady relationship between causation and correlation confuses some, observers took Dallas coach Avery Johnson's switch as both a sign of weakness, and a series-tilting maneuver that backfired.
That series wasn't decided because Dallas went small, though, and let Golden State define the terms of competition. It was decided because the Warriors had Dallas' number, because they matched up well and had the personnel needed to pull off the "upset."
It wasn't even decided because GSW coach Don Nelson had run those same Mavericks the year before, because during Warriors coach Mike Montgomery's turn with the team in 2005-06 the Warriors beat the Mavs three out of four times during the regular season. Golden State beat them in all three regular-season contests the following year, so a 4-2 Golden State postseason win following a 6-1 run against the Mavericks over two previous regular seasons shouldn't have come as much surprise.
And Dampier's inclusion or banishment (he did play well in that series, adding 17 rebounds and nine points in 38 total minutes of play) had absolutely nothing to do with the regular rollin' on.
To Perkins' credit, statistically at least, he has done the same. Twenty-two points and 30 rebounds in 96 minutes of play is sound work, borderline Dale Davis-y stuff if you give him a starter-level 33 minutes a night. He's not working the Joel Anthony or Jason Collins tip, here. There are tangible contributions, and he's had his moments defensively.
The team plays better, in this particular series, with him off the floor. Adjusting to matchup is not a weakness, and even if you do it to pair yourself off more equally with an underdog, it's still sound basketball smarts.
Some teams start two lumbering center-types. Some start two point guards. Some, like the Heat, are still determining both their rotation and starting lineup a year and a half into putting their team together. And while I don't want to act as if a heavy-minutes lineup featuring Nick Collison's quicker feet is a panacea, the stubborn sports writer in me is sticking with what he thought before the Finals — that the Thunder were going to have to severely limit Perkins' minutes in order to keep up with a Heat team that is both formidable in the screen and roll, and able to start five guys who can all swing a game with their perimeter shooting.
Of course, this is a thousand-word column based off of one Perkins quote in the frustration of a sweaty locker room after yet another coin flip game landed on "Heat."
That's OK, though. Perkins has the right to rant, and we've got the right to answer. All while trying to figure out the right way to adjust to a Miami Heat team that appears to be doing absolutely everything right at the absolute right time.
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