As the NBA Finals sit at 1-1 after the Miami Heat handed the Oklahoma City Thunder their first loss at home of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, only one person can get in the way of the Thunder winning this year's championship.
It's not LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.
The man is the Thunder's own head coach Scott Brooks and the issue revolves around center Kendrick Perkins.
It isn't that Oklahoma City is awful when Perk is on the court -- it's that they're that much better when he is off. When breaking it down per 100 possessions during the playoffs, when Perkins plays the Thunder's offensive efficiency is 107.2 and defensive efficiency is 104.2, good for a +3. When Perkins sits the Thunder's offensive efficiency jumps to 114 and defensive efficiency drops to 101.1, a 12.9 positive differential.
The sample size isn't just the playoffs either. During the regular season the numbers were similar.
With Perkins on the court their offensive efficiency was 103.7 and defensive efficiency stood at 99.6. When Perkins was on the bench the offensive efficiency was 110.3 and defensive efficiency, 100.4. A +4.1 when Perkins played and a +10.1 when didn't.
Against the Miami Heat, Brooks insistence on playing their starting center sticks out like Tim Tebow would at a swingers party.
With no true big man on the Heat's roster there is no match-up that makes sense for Perkins. Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem are both face up jump shooters and not back to the basket players. In addition the Heat put the former Celtic in the uncomfortable position of having to guard pick and rolls; it is too easy for the Heat to take Perk out of his comfort zone.
This is a big reason Miami has put together terrific starts in both games. In the first quarter of Game 1, Perkins was a -9, while in Game 2 he was a -15. To his credit when he was put back into the game the Thunder didn't perform nearly as bad. After the first quarter in Game 1 Perk was a +7 and in Game 2 he was a +1.
Scott Brooks playing Perkins won't stop the Thunder from winning the title, but it opens up the door for the Heat to steal it.
If Brooks pulled Perkins from the rotation and gave all the center minutes to Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison with Kevin Durant and Thabo Sefolosha playing power forward the chances of Oklahoma City losing to Miami would drop significantly.
- I agree with the no call on Kevin Durant's opportunity to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. The contact by LeBron did not impact Durant's shot and Durant was tentative not aggressive. If KD went through the contact to the hoop instead of shooting a fadeaway he would have forced the ref to blow the whistle. Durant has no one to blame but himself.
- Will this game finally quell the notion that the only part of the NBA game that matters is the fourth quarter or the final two minutes? For the second straight game Durant was otherworldly in the final quarter, but this time the Thunder couldn't pull it out. Maybe if KD wasn't 3-9 in the first half and 0-5 from three point range the Thunder wouldn't have needed a miraculous comeback.
- The Russell Westbrook criticism needs to stop. After Magic Johnson's ridiculous halftime comments saying Russell Westbrook played the worst half a point guard ever played in the finals I paid close attention when I re-watched the game. He was 2-10, but only two of the shots were bad shots. Westbrook missed five of six shots at the rim (four lay ups and one post up). During the season Westbrook shot 61.8% at the rim, this was an anomaly. I thought Westbrook was better than Durant in the first half who settled for jump shots and contested three pointers. RW was at least aggressive attacking the basket.
- I though Spoelstra made a mistake bringing Bosh back into the starting line-up - I was wrong.
- I didn't like how the Heat's offense in the fourth quarter. They went away from what was successful in the first three quarters. Miami was better when they let someone else initiate the offense and hit LeBron James in the post, mid-range on the wing or at the elbow. In the fourth quarter James went back to playing as a point guard and handling the ball outside the three point line.
- The script got flipped from Game One. In Game Two the Heat scored 48 points to the Thunder's 32 in the paint compared to Game One when Oklahoma City had 56 points in the paint to Miami's 40. The Heat also held the Thunder to 11 fast break points Thursday night including zero in the first half.