HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will continue to draw the biggest crowds and garners the most headlines for all that goes on with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
That’s what All-Stars do. But if the Thunder challenge the Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks for the Western Conference crown this season, they’ll have to do it from the inside out.
And that means they’ll need more of what they got from Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka in last night’s win over Portland that clinched their second consecutive playoff berth. The two Thunder bigs came up with clutch, back-to-back blocks at the rim in the final minute of a tight game (above), setting the stage for Westbrook to finish the Trail Blazers off with big shots in the final 53 seconds.
“They do a good job protecting the basket,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks told the Oklahoman. “They compliment each other very well.”
While blockbuster trade-deadline deals in other places have yet to provide the desired results (ahem, sorry New York), the Thunder have seen the fruits of general manager Sam Presti‘s front office labor. Perkins was declared a perfect fit by many of us that grade these things immediately, and he’s proved to be exactly that.
Challenging the Lakers (Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum), the Spurs (Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair) and Mavericks (Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood) isn’t nearly as daunting a task now as it was before Perkins, Ibaka and Nazr Mohammed joined forces with Nick Collison and rookie Cole Aldrich.
As crazy as it sounds, the Thunder will also get a boost from Durant on the defensive end. With his length, timing and athleticism, he’ll be able to extend the Thunder’s defensive pressure all over the floor. He had a career-high tying five blocks of his own against the Trail Blazers, one more than Perkins (two) and Ibaka (two) combined.
Perkins and Ibaka combined for 18 rebounds and they also delivered the defensive toughness that will carry the Thunder into the playoffs … along with heavy doses of Westbrook and Durant, of course!