Kendrick Perkins' Close-Outs Helps the Thunder Close It Out Against Mavericks

The Thunder were able to survive at home against the Mavericks and a big reason why was because of how they defended the Mavericks' offense in the final sequences of the game. Coach Scott Brooks was effusive in his praise of Kendrick Perkins in particular:

"But trust me when I say this, I really mean it: That [Perkins] does so much for us. Those two switches in stopping Terry from getting to the basket. We had trouble with him. He's a right-handed player and Perk forced him left and then switched up and went to his strong hand, and still made him miss that shot. That's huge for a center guarding one of the best guys off the bench."

Here are the two final plays that Brooks mentioned:

(final sequence begins at 2:16)

Some analysis after the jump.

Play 1

(Update: Added additional clip)

  • Jason Terry ran a high screen with Dirk Nowitzki. Since it was an end of game situation and the Thunder could not allow for an open jump shooter to come off of the screen, OKC correctly switched on the play, which left James Harden guarding Dirk and Perkins guarding Terry. That was actually a perfect exchange on Dallas' part, because a quicker Terry being guarded by Perkins and a taller Dirk being guarded by Harden is seemingly a no-lose situation. Either Terry gets by Perk for an open shot or Dirk fades and has an available jump shot over the shorter Harden.
  • Terry opts for the drive, and with only seconds remaining on the shot clock, that was a perfectly justifiable decision. Kevin Durant was hesitant on giving help because he would have had to leave Shawn Marion in the corner. Serge Ibaka was under the rim and could have helped prevent a layup, but Terry doesn't look for layups. He looks for medium range jump shots that he can step into.
  • Perkins accepts the challenge to stay with the smaller Terry. By quickly moving his feet, Perkins stays in front of Terry and keeps his body on Terry's hip so that JET can't turn the corner. There is a little contact, but it comes well before the shot attempt so the refs let it go. Terry can never get an angle on Perkins, so without any other options and the shot clock running out, he is forced to attempt an awkward fade-away, and Perkins' recovery is so good that he is even able to get a piece of the shot. A year ago, a heavier and not-fully-healthy Perk probably could not have made this play. He would have been beaten off the dribble and been forced to foul, which would have put Terry on the line for a chance to give his team the lead.
Play 2
  • Dallas, undeterred, still believed that getting Harden and Perkins to switch on Dirk and Terry was the proper play, and even in retrospect, I find it hard to argue with this logic. This time around, Terry went to the sideline to free up Dirk at the top, but again Harden did a good job sticking with Dirk and trusting that Perkins could stay in front of Terry a second time.
  • Perkins forces Terry baseline and if you pause the video at around 2:27, you see an interesting sight. Jason Kidd has cut backdoor on Russell Westbrook. Kidd has an open shot right at the front of the rim. I can only speculate here, but I am guessing that Kidd's cut was not part of the set play, because after he made his cut he ended up right in front of Terry. Rather, I think Kidd just read the defense perfectly and made his cut, hoping Terry would see him. Terry probably should have.
  • Why didn't Terry see him? Because his vision was obscured by #5's chest. Terry's field of vision was completely cut off, and since he didn't know what Kidd was doing, missed the opportunity for the assist. Credit again goes to Perkins who moved his feet, stayed in front of Terry the entire time, and never gave him the baseline drive.
  • Even after Terry eventually saw Kidd and offered a far-too-late pass, Perkins was able to help out just enough so that Kidd cannot pivot, but had to allow his own momentum to carry him out of bounds. Kidd helplessly gave the the ball back to Terry, and because Perkins has played defense perfectly and never over-committed, he was able to close back out on Terry to contest another fade-away jumper that did not come close.
I can't help but watch these two plays over and over again and not immediately think about how Perkins probably learned to play this kind of defense in open space under the counsel of Kevin Garnett. Garnett is the king of defensive big men who can guard smaller men, stay in front of them, and know precisely when to close out on the shot without fouling. It is great to see Perkins' health has returned so that he can make these plays, and we can only hope that Perkins' tutelage of his young protege Serge Ibaka soon bears similar fruit.


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