Since we're gluttons for punishment, let's take a look at one of the 4th quarter problems that surfaced. Pruiti examines the spacing issues that are evident by having Kendrick Perkins on the court.
The play I've embedded here from Pruiti's library is the most stark and emblematic of the offensive deficiency that is caused by having Perkins on the court. As always, be sure to read through Pruiti's entire sequence and see his screen shots to get the full effect.
A few more comments after the jump.
- The aspect of this play that immediately jumps out to me is how this problem mirrors the same problem that the Thunder have in featuring Thabo Sefolosha on the court in the crunch. I understand how Scott Brooks feels the need to stick to his line-up and give his defensive specialist Sefolosha a chance to impact the game. However, as we saw in the Game Three melt-down, the presence of Sefolosha on the court during the last four minutes of regulation hurt the Thunder offensively much more than it helped them defensively. When the game is on the line, the Thunder simply cannot have players on the court who are not even threats to score. If you see how Marc Gasol left Perkins wide open under the rim, you can see that the Grizzlies don't see Perkins as a threat.
- The Grizzlies were able to bottle up Russell Westbrook and the Thunder offense in Game Three because they were able to shift the smaller Mike Conley over to Sefolosha, which essentially allowed Conley's defensive deficiencies to be hidden while giving him the freedom to provide help-defense without fear. With an extra defensive player, the Grizzlies could throw additional bodies at Westbrook and funnel him into spots where he had limited options. In the same way here, the Grizzlies were able to collapse the space around Kevin Durant with in effect an extra defensive player (Gasol). Durant is not yet strong enough to be able to split double-teams, so when they come he is forced to force a bad shot or kill the offensive set by passing the ball out. The Thunder have to figure out a way to keep that help-defender at home, and Durant needs to recognize the open man when the help comes.
- As I've written previously, Perkins has offered a bit of a mixed bag this series. I know that his knowledge and experience of the game is crucial (especially game 7's), but he has not been able to stay in front of either Zach Randolph or Gasol very well. My hunch is that the best end of game line-up is probably Westbrook-Durant-Harden-Collison-Ibaka. That set provides the most amount of flexibility on offense, it is a group that will make its free throws, and I don't think you lose too much on defense. Nick Collison has had the best amount of success on Randolph. Serge Ibaka is a bit of the wildcard, because he has not had the same impact on the game as in the first round. Against Denver, Ibaka was able to roam free because Perkins was able to sit down in the paint and hold the line without help. Against Memphis though, Ibaka's assignment is much greater in that both he and Perkins are being forced to move around more than they're comfortable.