The Kendrick Perkins trade debate will not die out anytime soon when it comes to the 2010-11 Boston Celtics. For now whoever, I, like most Celtics fans, are interested observers of the former starting Celtic center on the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. And for the first time this postseason, as Oklahoma City faces a 2-1 series deficit, John Hollinger of ESPN.com spends a good amount of his latest piece on the former Celtic and the problems he poses for the Thunder during the Dallas series.
I’m not in complete agreement here with Hollinger, but it’s definitely good food for thought on the guy whose clearly playing at 80 or so percent as he continues to recover from ACL surgery.
The Thunder’s starting lineup once again dug a huge hole for them, falling behind by double-digits early. It was the third straight game this series that Oklahoma City trailed with its starting five on the floor.
In the three games, Oklahoma City has been outscored 39-17 in the opening minutes of the first quarter until a reserve checks into the game. Overall, the deficit to begin each half is 57-31. Take those minutes away and the Thunder are comfortably outscoring Dallas.
To put a finer point on things, let’s replace the word “starters” with “Kendrick Perkins.” In his 82 minutes on the court, the Thunder have been outscored by a whopping 32 points. In his 62 minutes on the bench, the advantage has titled nearly as strongly the other way: The Thunder are plus-23.
And those slow starts? They’ve magically ended at the exact second Perkins departed. Oklahoma City trailed by five in Game 1 before he went out, by nine in Game 2, and by 15 in this one — 29 points worth of deficits to make up the rest of the night. The Thunder overcame it in Game 2 by scoring on nine straight possessions right after Perk went to the bench; in the other two games, the hill was too big to climb.
Of course, this could just be noise. Sometimes plus-minus fluctuates randomly for reasons that have little to do with a player’s performance. After watching the three games, however, this isn’t one of those cases. For starters, Perkins has made a limited statistical contribution, with only 11 points and 14 rebounds in the three games. His main function seemed to be going out of his way to run into Tyson Chandler off the ball.
I don’t want to diminish Perkins’ value in general. The Thunder people will tell you in gushing detail about his crunching screens, and what a smart, communicating defender he is, and how his physicality sets a tone. Against the right opponent, this can be enormously valuable … just ask Orlando.
The problem is that the Mavs aren’t that opponent, and Perkins played 30 minutes anyway. That was the most of any Oklahoma City big man. Collison and Ibaka played only 24 minutes, and Nazr Mohammed didn’t play at all.
One can also argue that Perkins’ weaknesses are magnified because he plays with another non-scorer, Thabo Sefolosha. Like Perkins, Sefolosha’s strengths are wasted in this series because Dallas lacks a great wing scorer. Meanwhile, it’s too easy for opponents to load up on Durant and Westbrook at the start of games, which is exactly what’s happened in each of the first three contests until Collison and Harden come in.
All of which creates a thorny issue for the Thunder. Their best team going forward has Perkins at center, especially a year from now when his surgically repaired knee is in better shape. I still believe that.
But their best chance of winning this series is with Perkins playing a much more limited role. Thus, they have to risk upsetting their centerpiece big man — much as Scott Brooks risked upsetting Westbrook by benching him at the end of Game 2 — and deploying small lineups and Ibaka-Collison combinations much more readily. If they aren’t willing to yank Perkins from the starting lineup entirely (they could even start Mohammed to avoid ruffling the bench rotation), at the very least they need to cut his 30 minutes from Saturday to a few scraps at the start of each half.
Again, I don’t want to pin all this on Perk; he wasn’t the one shooting all those bricks. But the cold shooting was a one-game phenomenon; the Perkins effect has been all series. Until or unless it changes, the Thunder’s playoff run is unlikely to continue much longer.
What say you CelticsHubbers? We know Perk just as well as anybody. Is he at all to blame for the slow OKC starts?