In Ibaka’s absence, underappreciated Perkins steps to the plate

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The Thunder will need Kendrick Perkins to step up in Serge Ibaka's absence.

With Serge Ibaka out, the Thunder will need Kendrick Perkins to step up. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Brooding Kendrick Perkins has handled being a punchline of sorts by his own teammates and those too-often incredulous, face-palming hometown fans with a playful touch. But what the Oklahoma City Thunder will need from their starting, sometimes stumbling center in the Western Conference finals is no laughing matter.

Power forward Serge Ibaka, the league’s leading shot blocker and the Thunder’s third-leading scorer, is expected to miss the remainder of the playoffs with a left calf strain. Perkins, known more in OKC for his menacing scowl and misfiring putbacks than any meaningful point production, won’t be asked to duplicate Ibaka’s mid-range game. But Perkins’ 270-pound presence at the other end must be problematic for Tony Parker‘s penetrations and Tim Duncan‘s myriad of moves in the paint.

In early April, Perkins ignited a rally against the Spurs early in the third quarter in a way really only he can with a two-handed shove of Duncan after the whistle. The crowd howled and after the theatrics, OKC was off to the races, snapping the Spurs’ 19-game streak and making it a 4-0 sweep in the regular season.

“We’re a team that’s going to come and get real physical with you,” Perkins said after the game, which was his first back from groin surgery that sidelined him for six weeks.

Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers coach who coached Perkins in Boston where they won the 2008 championship and some say lost the 2010 Finals against the Lakers because Perkins was injured and couldn’t play in Game 7, placed a value on Perkins that he says numbers simply can’t.

“You just can’t,” Rivers said. “He does so many things on the floor, off the floor, he gives every team he’s on a perception of toughness. You know, I was amazed the difference when we [the Celtics] lost him (in the trade to Oklahoma City on Feb. 24, 2011). I’m not saying the next year, I’m saying the next week.

“After he was gone, all of a sudden now it felt like we were under attack. No one was scared of us anymore in Boston.”

This postseason, even some of Perkins’ numbers are revealing his value on the floor. He’s shooting 52.8 percent from the floor — his high mark since the 2009 playoffs and up from 26.3 percent last postseason when he was roundly ridiculed — meaning he’s sticking those put-backs, and even a decent number of those mechanical, one-handed push shots he attempts.

He was key in the Thunder’s Game 2 win over L.A., going for eight points and nine rebounds. Averaging 21.0 mpg, he’s grabbed six or more rebounds in six of 13 playoff games.

Like Rivers, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has maintained a high level of loyalty to Perkins, sticking with the 6-foot-10 native Texan when he’s struggled, and even when a smaller lineup would seem appropriate.

But Brooks’ confidence won’t magically allow the ground-bound Perkins to replicate the athleticism, strength and shot-blocking of the ever-evolving Ibaka, who has become so confident that he’s taken to mimicking the Dikembe Mutombo finger wave after denying an opponent at the rim. During his MVP speech, Kevin Durant praised Ibaka for cleaning up so many of the team’s defensive mistakes.

Losing Ibaka is hardly ideal, particularly against the Spurs’ front line of Duncan and burly Tiago Splitter. But the Thunder are more prepared to soldier on without him than in previous postseasons. Veteran Nick Collison is crafty and reliable regardless of the minutes he’s granted from series to series or game to game. And 7-foot rookie Steven Adams continues to get better while providing rock-solid minutes at both ends.

“He’s playing with a great level of confidence,” Perkins said after Adams posted 10 points and 11 rebounds in the Game 6 win against the Clippers.

The fierce New Zealander was drafted 12th overall last June by the Thunder after playing just one season at Pittsburgh. He’s averaging 16.3 mpg, but has shown he has the stamina to go much deeper if called upon. He logged 40 minutes in Game 6 and more then 20 minutes three more times. He has soft hands for a big man and is adept at catching and finishing as the ball inevitably comes his way underneath when his man leaves to help on Durant or Russell Westbrook.

“The unsung heroes on our team are our bigs,” Brooks said. “I say it all the time, I’ll continue to say it, they set screens, do a lot of things to put us in position to win a lot of basketball games.”

One significant big is down. It’s up to Perkins and his pals to pick him up.

25 Comments

  1. softtail067 says:

    Anyone hear the names Adams? Jackson? OKC ALL THE WAY!!!!

  2. Andrew says:

    Good thing about San Antonio Spurs, they don’t just rely on a “Star” player, they are an “all-for-one, one-for-all team. Bench is an added factor to win this game. Spurs in 5.

  3. Bruce15 says:

    Spurs will kill the thunder and go to final and get anotha RING!!!

  4. MR210 says:

    Now they are hyping up Perkins! Give me a break.

    About the only thing Perkins can do to pick up the slack is punch some more people in the crotch!
    Please – nobody in San Antonio is worried about Perkins!

    He will start but come crunch time – I don’t see him a factor at all – he will be seated the whole 4th quarter of every game.

    Spurs in 5!
    GO SPURS GO – DRIVE FOR FIVE!

  5. Zack says:

    I think that it was pretty obvious that the Thunder were able to push back after the Ibaka injury. it may be true that OKC’s offence relies on KD and Westbrook, but their defense is a really good team defense, and not just Ibaka. i still see they have the same chances at winning this, spurs won’t stand a chance

  6. dylan19 says:

    It good new for Spurs….haha

  7. okc2014 says:

    What does that mean, “barbecue chicken?”

  8. okcDoke2014 says:

    Wake up call coming for Thunder. Spurs have been champions and Thunder have not

  9. dmh says:

    Bruce Bowen did “nothing” back in the day and his number is in the rafters. Part of that “nothing” was getting underneath the opponent’s skin and being opportunistic with his shots. Bowen is probably the lowest scoring lowest statistical player EVER to have his number retired. Perkins is kind of the same way only from the center position. The only difference there is that Perkins does not quite have the same amount of minutes played to even think about the rafters due to injury. The psychological impact is similar though. If Perkins was as intimidating from the center position as he was back in the Boston days and early OKC days people may have a different tune. With the league changing to a perimeter friendly league more, the chances for a defensive snarling center to make a true impact are getting less and less. There are only a handful of teams that even have a true center anymore and those true centers are not getting playing time like they used to. Then if you knock off the ones that are not used as a primary threat in any way the number goes down even more for a guy like Perkins to make a statement in a game.

    Although this bench cheerleader step up act is kind of cute. Lets see if it translates on the floor for the OKC bigs without Ibaka. If nothing else it should help the rookie I would think.

  10. Shawn Kemp no. 1 says:

    Barbecue chicken!

  11. okcDoke2014 says:

    English

  12. Jose Castillo says:

    Esto es increible. Ahora PERKINS es una estrella de la NBA. Por Dios. OKC ha ganado dos series teniendo que jugar 13 juegos con IBAKA… Ahora se enfrentan al mejor sembrado de la NBA sin su mejor jugador a la defensiva y mejor tercer anotador. A pesar de eso doy ganador a San Antonio en 6.

  13. Michael says:

    I’m sure it will be very interesting to watch and it won’t be a cakewalk like Portland series for the Spurs. OKC might win 1 or 2 games and the others will be somewhat competitive. Spurs need to be on guard for overconfidence. Most likely result: 4–1 Spurs.

  14. Perkins is tough….but I don’t think the Spurs will be intimidated by that. Further, it will take more than toughness to beat San Antonio. I see the Spurs winning in 5….I wouldn’t be surprised of a sweep.

  15. okcDoke2014 says:

    Spurs have easy series………………………

  16. Ryan says:

    Now it’s confirmed, Spurs will be in the Finals…

  17. jake s. says:

    “Duncan shot 5 for 18 when defended by Kendrick Perkins.”

  18. jdub455 says:

    yep more playin time means more shaqtin a fool moments!! lol!!!

  19. Kunjaymaster says:

    I don’t think OKC is in such big trouble as everyone thinks, it just means someone else is going to need to step up and of course Durant and Westbrook to carry a bigger load. They still have nobody who can guard Durant or stop Westbrook, i still think this will be a very competitive series.

    • Marco29 says:

      Ibaka provides at both ends of the floor so his absence will be felt by OKC. Other mights step up but it might take power off the bench who will struggle anyway against the best bench in the league.

  20. joe says:

    I do think that the Ibaka injury hurts OKCs chances of getting to the Finals, but I dont think that it is the end. I think the Thunder will manage to find a way to win continue to fight. Perk is completely underappreciated and people dont understand how good he is defensively especially against true centers, like Duncan. If the white boys and Durant can keep Splitter out of the paint and KAwhi from hitting his shots, I think you let San Antonios guards try to beat you. And they cannot beat the combination of Westbrook, Reggie, and Caron, and Thabo. With Ibaka at center I think the Thunder have the best small ball lineup, but with Perkins they will just have to adjust and I think against a team like the Spurs, with two bigs, they might be able to

  21. cp10 says:

    I’m not sure why the Celtics lost the championship in 2010, all I know is I wish Celtics won it.

  22. OKC says:

    Definitely not counting out the Thunder, but I’m not exactly rushing to put money on us…

  23. Heddo says:

    Kendrick Perkins has to step up? Please, don’t make me laugh. Perkins, aka “Mr 2pts, 3rebs”, the vice-king of Shaqtin’a’fool, is a joke. He probably wouldn’t make the starting five in any other NBA team. They should sell him as soon as possible, but there is one big problem – nobody wants him, especially considering his ridiculous salary. His defensive skills are mediocre at best, his offensive skills….well, what offensive skills? Without Ibaka OKC has no chance to stop Duncan and Splitter. Everything is on Durant and Westbrook’s shoulders. I love these guys even though Russell’s stupidity matches his great talent, but I do think they’ll make it.

    Spurs in 5, maybe 6.