You can’t take away everything.
One man cannot stop LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, you need a team defensive effort, you need bigs rotating into the paint as shot blockers. But that comes with tradeoffs.
Serge Ibaka is one of the game’s best shot blockers and he has hung near the paint to protect the rim when Wade and James drive. It’s what he does. But the tradeoff through two NBA finals games is in doing so he lets Shane Battier roam free out at the arc — the result is two 17-point games and 9-of-13 shooting from three by Battier this series. Battier is a key reason this series is 1-1 heading to Miami.
It’s a problem the Thunder need to deal with.
The temptation is to say Battier will come back to earth (or regress to the mean, you like math terms). He shot 33.9 percent from three this season and 38.2 percent for his career. He can’t keep up this pace, right? Actually, maybe he can. The lucky shots (like that banked three in Game 2) will not fall forever, but mostly he is getting wide open looks with his feet set. Let him do that and Battier is going to hit a high percentage of threes.
What can the Thunder do about it? Sit Kendrick Perkins — 7 of Battier’s 9 threes have come when Kendrick Perkins is on the floor. OKC must go small faster and for longer stretches.
Follow me on this one. Perkins was brought in to Oklahoma City to deal with the likes of Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, more traditional centers. Miami doesn’t have anyone like that. Against the Heat, Perkins draws Chris Bosh and that leaves Ibaka — whose strength is as a shot blocker flying in from the weak side — to choose between protecting the rim and hanging out at the arc with Battier.
The result is Ibaka goes for the block, Wade kicks it out, the rotation is almost always slow to non-existent, and Battier gets a good look at a three. And he buries it.
It’s not just me saying this. There is our own Rob Mahoney at the New York Times. Sebastian Pruitti wrote about it at Grantland. And in case you think Perkins is helping out the Thunder offense, that is wrong as well.
Less Perkins, more James Harden. Way less. Like don’t start Perkins. I know Perkins has a time and place, but this finals is not it. The Thunder just also need to be more aware in transition and pick up Battier at the arc because they are again ignoring him to protect the paint and paying the price.