The Thunder and Heat split the first two games of the NBA Finals in Oklahoma City and now the series goes to Miami for three straight games.
It’s disappointing from a Thunder perspective to lose one at home but the series is by no means over. They need to beware though because they will go 10 days between playing at home if the series goes to a Game 6. Momentum and the entire feel of a series can change in that amount of time especially with all of the games on the road.
The Thunder had the same problem in Games 1 and 2 getting off to slow starts against the Heat. The Heat are starting a small lineup with LeBron James at the four and it has helped them spread the floor to get open 3-point shooters and also render Kendrick Perkins useless.
Perkins was matched up with Chris Bosh to start Game 2 at center which isn’t a great matchup for him. Perkins’ value comes in defending the post, setting screens and annoying opponents with physical contact that can help get some offensive rebounds.
Perkins played 20 minutes in Game 2 and scored four points to go with eight rebounds, four of which were offensive. The Thunder were minus-16 in those 20 minutes.
It seems there is no place for Perkins in this series and the Thunder should seriously consider removing him from the starting lineup, although that will probably not happen.
If Perkins continues to start, the Thunder will likely continue to deal with slow starts from their offense and possible defense too. These are holes you never want to be in, especially on the road against the best front-running team in the league.
Russell Westbrook has been the Thunder player most noticeable in these slow starts as well. Westbrook has gone just 5-for-20 from the field in the first halves of Games 1 and 2 and in both games missed at least his first four shots.
Westbrook plays his best in space and Perkins minimizes that for the Thunder offense. That’s why we’ve seen Westbrook struggling to get clean looks and appear to be forcing a lot.
The other problem for the Thunder early on is the offensive sets they run. They aren’t exactly the same sets they run all game.
The most common one is when they set a cross screen to try and get Kevin Durant a post-up. With LeBron guarding him in Game 2, they never successfully got this look from this set and it led to Westbrook having to create with nothing in front of him a few times.
LeBron can obviously out-physical Durant some and the other Heat defenders can help a ton against this set especially when Perkins is in and the floor spacing is worse.
Getting your best player post touches early in the first quarter is a common thing for a lot of teams but given the Thunder’s matchup with the Heat, it isn’t a great idea.
If Perkins continues to start, the best bet for the Thunder will be getting either Westbrook or Durant on the move and in pick-and-rolls with Serge Ibaka.
The Thunder often run a version of the Spurs’ weak set that does just this for Westbrook. They haven’t been doing it enough early in the game with this lineup but it may be one of the only sets that could be effective to start out the game and might get Westbrook into some rhythm.
It is frustrating watching this series so far for the Thunder. It was great that they were able to win Game 1 and almost came back in Game 2 but it doesn’t have to be this way. Perkins simply needs to be benched and it doesn’t even have to be for James Harden.
If the Thunder used Nick Collison instead of Perkins, it would make a world of difference. Collison would have no trouble matching up with Shane Battier on defense and always makes the Thunder defense better with his great understanding of rotations.
It’s ok to make drastic starting lineup changes in the NBA Finals too. The Dallas Mavericks did it last year inserting J.J. Barea for DeShawn Stevenson in the middle of the series and it became a very crucial decision that helped them beat the Heat.
One of the only good things about losing a game in a series is that you have the luxury of being able to adjust for the next game and possible catch your opponent back on their heels.
The winner of Game 3 in NBA Finals tied 1-1 goes on to win the series 85 percent of the time. It may be now or never for the Thunder to adjust. Another slow start could cost them a championship.
Tags: Chris Bosh James Harden Kendrick Perkins Kevin Durant LeBron James Miami Heat NBA Finals NBA Playoffs Nick Collison Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook Scott Brooks Serge Ibaka Shane Battier