OKLAHOMA CITY – Kendrick Perkins could hear the whispers on the street, the loud statements on TV from Charles Barkley. He could feel the heat from some of the critics who even suggested that Thunder coach Scott Brooks should take him out of the starting lineup.
He was too slow and plodding to play in tandem on the front line with Serge Ibaka against the ball movement of the Spurs, too ineffective against Tony Parker’s drives on the pick and roll.
“In that last game Parker was able to get in there and get off his shots pretty easy,” Perkins said. “So tonight I said, ‘I want to see what you got.’ ” I wanted to challenge him. I wanted to make him really work for it.”
Perkins toiled ferociously from the opening tip in Game 3, helping set the pace in the Thunder’s 8-0 start and was a key factor in making Parker look mortal. After making 16 of 21 shots and scoring 34 points in Game 2, Parker made only 6-for-12 for 16 points and also committed five of the Spurs 21 turnovers.
Parker’s drop in production was the result of the OKC guards Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook fighting over screens and also Perkins stepping out on the pick and roll to cut off any path to the basket.
“Me personally, I said I was gonna do a better job on the pick and roll,” Perkins said. “I knew I had to come up. He was hitting. He was too comfortable. So I knew I had to come up on the screens.
“I watched Game 2 and seen what I needed to do a better job of. We all did a better job. I thought our guards got into the ball today and got over the screen, which helped a lot. We had active hands and we just played nice team defense.”
When Parker was unable to wheel and deal and dish from the middle of the OKC lineup, the Spurs tried to run their offense from the low post through Tim Duncan, but were quickly spinning their wheels.
It was a different team overall in terms of execution and emotion for the Thunder. And it was a giant leap forward for Perkins after taking so much head for OKC falling into the 0-2. At the end of the night, he scored just four points, but Perkins also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots.
After being accused of being too passive in San Antonio, Perkins even closed out on Manu Ginobili late in the second quarter and blocked a 3-point attempt 25 feet from the basket.
“I don’t know. I just didn’t want him to score on me,” he said with a grin.
The already deafening crowd rose to its feel and took the roar to a new level.
After all the heat, it was just good for Perk to feel the warmth again.