For most NBA teams, keeping three of five starters on the bench for the final quarter seems like a recipe for disaster. However, led by their unorthodox superstar, the Mavs are about as unique a team as you’ll find in the NBA and have caused plenty of problems for Oklahoma City thus far because of it. Kendrick Perkins, and Serge Ibaka to a lesser extent, have exemplified the power of match-ups in the playoffs.
Had this series pitted the Thunder against the Lakers, we would most likely be singing the praises of Perkins as he gamely battled Pau Gasol and Andrew “Arms Akimbo” Bynum in the post. But against Dallas’ frontline of Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki, Perkins, at less than full strength, is looking like a fish out of water.
Since one of a coach’s main priorities is to put his players in position to be successful on both ends of the floor, a large part of Perk’s struggles must be pinned on Scott Brooks. Instead of putting Perkins in situations that allow for positive results, Brooks did the exact opposite and was rewarded with a defensive effort that bordered on subpar and an offensive effort that vacillated back and forth from simply inefficient to downright pathetic.
Thankfully for Brooks, all of his center’s biggest issues can be addressed with the same solution: Keep Perkins off the floor.
Perk’s offensive struggles are augmented by the OKC’s other posts. While Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison have some range on their jump shots, neither is a floor-spacer cut out of the Channing Frye or Kevin Garnett mold. In today’s game, consistent offense is hard to sustain without giving scorers the room to operate. The Thunder tried to remedy this problem out of desperation when they inserted a lineup of Collison, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Daequean Cook, and Russell Westbrook for the stretch run. The increased floor space resulted in a startling contrast between early and late game looks.
Early in Game 3, Westbrook looks to drive toward the rim and ends up getting stripped by Chandler. The play leads to a run-out and a Marion lay-up at the other end.
While Westbrook impatience is partly to blame for this, if Perkins is replaced with a shooter, or at least tries harder to stay out of the way, there is either a driving lane for RW or an easy kick out for a 3pt shot against a collapsing D. In the second clip, OKC’s “Spread” lineup is on the floor late in the 4th. With this personnel grouping, all of Jason Kidd’s wisdom is rendered useless against the explosive Westbrook in an isolation situation.
Westbrook wasn’t the only one who thrived when given more space to operate. In the 1st quarter, Durant is isolated against DeShawn Stevenson with Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, and Perkins all on the floor. The video is paused as Durant starts his move to show all the clutter near the basket before drives toward the rim.
While Durant did draw the foul on that attempt, it doesn’t mean it’s the optimal strategy for the Thunder. In the following clip, we see what a headache it is to guard Durant coming off a screen in space. Here OKC’s “Spread” lineup is in and Durant curls off a screen from Collison for a nifty basket at the rim.
Pay particular attention Dirk Nowitzki on the play. Dirk is hesitant to commit fully to Durant’s dive down the lane because he must keep himself in position to closeout to the lethal Cook on any pass out. If a non-shooter is in Cook’s spot, there is a good likelihood that the big German begins from a better help position and rotates in front of Durant for the charge.
There is an old basketball adage that claims “spacing is offense and offense is spacing.” It was proved true once again as a lineup of Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Daequan Cook, and Russell Westbrook nearly erased a giant first half deficit and forced Dallas to sweat out the final minutes of a game that seemed destined to be a blowout. If the Thunder want to avoid being in a 3-1 hole, the best look to spread the floor early and often against the Mavs.