The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to struggle against the Miami Heat. The Heat beat the Thunder for the fifth straight time on Christmas Day, 103-97, adding the victory to the four straight with which they closed out the NBA Finals in June.
Much like Games 2 through 4 of those Finals, the Heat simply out-executed the Thunder down the stretch. Perhaps the key play was when LeBron James, with the shot clock winding down, dropped a dime under the basket to Chris Bosh for a wide-open dunk with 25.5 seconds left. The basket gave Miami a 98-95 lead and the Thunder lost their composure after the basket, with Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook appearing to turn on teammate Kevin Martin for blowing a defensive assignment.
Bosh gets wide open. Maybe Martin screwed up. Maybe he didn’t.
But here’s the thing: It sure appeared as if Perkins decided to leave Bosh alone under the bucket in a vain attempt to close out on James, who was 16 or so feet away from the cup.
What Perkins—all 6-10 and 270 pounds of him—thought he was going to do with James out on the perimeter is unknown.
But what is known is this: Perkins left a proven scorer all alone under the basket in the final minute of a game when OKC was trailing by one point. At the very least, his job would appear to be to at least make an effort at challenging Bosh on the block.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks has penciled Perkins into the starting lineup all 27 games this season and Perkins is getting a shade over 25 minutes per game of run. He’s averaging 4.7 points and 5.1 rebounds to go with 1.4 turnovers per night. Perkins shoots 49.5 percent from the floor and around 65 percent from the free-throw line.
On the other hand, reserve big man Nick Collison—quicker and more versatile than Perkins—averaged 19.4 minutes per game and has produced 5.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and one turnover. He is shooting 62.9 percent from the floor and a shade less than 70 percent at the line.
Normalizing their statistics, one finds the following tale per 36 minutes:
–Perkins: 6.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 turnovers
–Collison: 10.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.9 turnovers
In the Finals, the Thunder struggled to match up with the smaller, quicker Heat. Yet Brooks rolled out virtually the same game plan on Tuesday. He stayed with his big lineup featuring Perkins and Serge Ibaka up front and Collison on the bench in crunch time.
Is there a difference? The numbers would appear to indicate the answer is an emphatic “yes.”
During the Finals, Collison was a plus-13 for the series. Perkins, on the other hand, checked in with a minus-25.
On Christmas, it was more of the same. Collison was plus-4, Perkins minus-6.
Worse, Brooks’ strategy played right into Miami’s hands. The Heat played their small lineup with Ray Allen on the floor at the end of the game with no worries about any defensive problems. In fact, Dwyane Wade—all 6-foot-4 of him—was guarding Perkins down the stretch.
It’s one thing to not be the primary option on offense. It’s another thing to be so lightly regarded that defenses gift-wrap a mismatch because they know there is absolutely no chance Perkins will have his number called.
While the big lineup may match up well in the Western Conference, where there are monster-sized front lines to contend with from the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies, it seems as if Oklahoma City’s strategy against Miami is flawed.
It has been said that insanity can be defined as doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results.
So it would seem that Scott Brooks would be crazy to not at least entertain the notion of giving Nick Collison some run in crunch time when the Heat come to Oklahoma City on Valentine’s Day.