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When the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder square off, Memphis power forward Zach Randolph and Thunder center Kendrick Perkins tend to see a lot of one another, and for two of the NBA's reputed stone-cold, hard-bitten, low-post bangers, that kind of familiarity can breed contempt. Back in May 2011, after Z-Bo had roasted Perk in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinals playoff series, Perkins refused to agree with teammate Kevin Durant's assessment that Randolph was the best power forward in the league, while Randolph told FoxSports.com's Chris Tomasson that Perkins is "too slow" to guard him and that "all Perk can do is foul me."
Perkins got the last laugh in that playoff series, as the Thunder dispatched the Grizzlies in seven games, but Randolph had the upper hand during Wednesday night's marquee Western Conference matchup between the two fast-starting squads, posting 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting (many at Perk's expense) to go with 11 rebounds and two steals in Memphis' convincing 107-97 road win in OKC. All those jab-step serve-ups got Perk a little heated, it seemed, and with Memphis up 11 and 2:05 left in the game, the beef began to broil:
If you listen closely, you'll hear Perkins yell across the lane to Randolph, "I'll meet you by the bus," followed by Randolph yelling, "I'll beat your ass." Listen even closer and you will hear the moment the entire basketball-watching world went, "Ohhhhhhh, [EXPLETIVE]."
Referee Ken Mauer decided he'd had enough of that tough-guy-back-and-forth and decided to give the two big men the gate. From there, we'll let John Rohde at The Oklahoman pick up the narrative thread:
After the two players were separated, Perkins ran off the court in front of the Thunder bench and into a hallway, where he had another altercation with Randolph outside the postgame interview room next to the Thunder locker room.
The players were separated by Oklahoma City police officers. People in the postgame interview area heard something being slammed against the door.
Security members huddled briefly thereafter to discuss the matter, but no action was taken against either player.
Initial reports of a police investigation resulting from the off-court tête-à-tête were promptly squashed, seemingly remanding this to a brief, height-of-passion scuffle among titans that ended when the final buzzer sounded (or, at least, got tabled until the next time Memphis and OKC meet). It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported on Thursday afternoon that the NBA plans to take its own look into the incident.
Exactly what form of discipline could result from such an investigation remains unclear — the NBA rulebook gives the commissioner's office leeway to levy "a fine not exceeding $50,000 and/or suspension" against players who are involved in physical altercations and/or judged to have thrown a punch on the court, but the lines are a bit blurrier when it comes to things that take place off the court; the situation only gets blurrier, one would presume, when police and security on the scene ostensibly say there was nothing to get exercised about here. Then again, the NBA's fresh off forcing DeMarcus Cousins to take a two-game siesta for allegedly acting hostile toward a color commentator, so maybe "people in the postgame interview area [hearing] something being slammed against the door" is enough of a smoking gun to keep Z-Bo and Perk in suits for the rest of their natural-born lives, irrespective of what Johnny Law thinks.
I feel pretty confident, though, that the NBA's investigation will turn up just as little smoke as the one conducted by the police on-site did. For one thing, as I joked Wednesday night and SB Nation's Tom Ziller joked Thursday morning, Chesapeake Energy Arena continues to stand, and the area surrounding has not been reduced to a rubble-filled crater. And for another, in answer to a postgame question as to whether he and Perk had buried the hatchet, Randolph offered this revelatory bon mot, courtesy of Rohde at the Oklahoman:
"Man, I play basketball. I don't worry about all that. Perk's all right. There's a lot of bluffin' going on the court, that's all, you know. And I don't bluff."
About as perfect an encapsulation of Z-Bo as has ever been uttered. Here's hoping for his sake, though, that the NBA doesn't learn he did anything more than bluster on Wednesday; with the rhythm the Grizz are in, they can ill-afford to see one of their twin towers miss any time.
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Oklahoma City fans, on the other hand, might just welcome a Perkins suspension. When Perkins sits, OKC's scoring 110.7 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 92.4-per-100, according to NBA.com's stat tool; when he plays, they score 97.9-per-100 and give up 100.7-per-100 on defense. That means they're about 18 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when Perkins isn't playing, and they're about 3 points-per-100 worse than the opposition when he plays. Maybe a forced vacation for Perk would make Scott Brooks take a closer look at those numbers.
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