Kendrick Perkins, after mounting criticism, establishing new niche with Thunder

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BOSTON – The terms of the Kendrick Perkins conundrum were never complicated.

He’s a well-respected leader whose on-court production increasingly failed to justify the starting role the Thunder gave him.

ESPN called him the NBA’s Least Valuable Player. Kevin Durant called him “one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”

Both assessments were accurate.

How Oklahoma City should reconcile the two side of Perkins was always the more complicated question.

Would reducing his playing time diminish his standing in the locker room? Would he continue to lead as a reserve? Could he?

Now, Perkins is making it easy on the Thunder.

Coming off the bench for the first time since being traded to Oklahoma City, Perkins is averaging 5.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 52.8 percent in 19.8 minutes per game. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but they – combined with his intangibles – make keeping him the rotation completely justifiable.

Perkins has reversed a four-year downturn in PER, dating back to his final full season with the Celtics:

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After starting his first 289 games with the Thunder, including the playoffs, Perkins performed well off the bench his first few games of the season. He grabbed eight and six rebounds his first two games, and then he had 17 points and five rebounds in a win over the Nuggets.

But a cold spell hit, and Perkins shot 1-for-9 in three straight losses.

“A couple of games, mentally I wasn’t into it,” Perkins said. “I wasn’t bringing the right mindset and my heart wasn’t in it. The last few games my heart’s been in it.”

What changed?

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to get a reality check,” Perkins said. “Sometimes, people that you love just got to put you in place and talk to you. And that’s all you need at times, just that one person to talk to you.”

Perkins has no shortage of people he can rely on when he faces a challenge – naming specifically his wife and former Celtics teammates Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett.

“KG is the one who will tell me the truth all the time,” Perkins said. “He’s going to tell me the truth whether I want to hear it or not.”

But none of those three had the first-hand experience to help Perkins with this latest slump while adjusting to coming off the bench.

Enter teammate Nick Collison, a backup most of his career.

“He was just telling me about the role I’m in coming off the bench,” Perkins said. “You just got to know that you got to come in and almost want to play perfect with a lot of energy. I didn’t really know you can’t ease into that.

“You just got to be a spark plug off the bench some kind of way.”

Though he said he’s not making any concerted effort to score more in the absence of Durant, Russell Westbrook and multiple other key players, Perkins has at least six points in three straight games – a feat he achieved only once all of last season.

So far, he’s delivering exactly what this team needs, and any worries about how sending him to the bench would affect Oklahoma City’s chemistry are being put to rest.

Not only is up-and-coming Steven Adams holding his own after becoming starting center, Perkins’ voice still carries weight. Even after a brief tiff with Reggie Jackson – who’s also trying to find his way in a changing environment – the guard spoke highly of Perkins.

“He’s just so embracing, so loving,” Jackson said. “He wants the best for everybody.

“He’ll run through a wall for you. If he feels you’re genuine, you’re a great teammate, there’s no ends Perk that will go to make sure, to make you feel wanted.”

Perkins, after the Thunder didn’t amnesty him this summer, must feel wanted, too. He’s even hearing MVP chants in his head.

These good feelings might not last. When rookie Mitch McGary returns from injury, he could usurp Perkins’ role. Even the returns of Durant and Perry Jones could eat into Perkins’ playing, because Collison has opened big-man minutes by playing out of position at small forward. There’s also a chance Perkins’ revival is a flash in the pan, unsustainable in a larger sample.

But, right now, Perkins is quietly succeeding on the court and loudly leading off it – a perfect recipe for Oklahoma City

Deep and dominant Bucks give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time

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DETROIT – Giannis Antetokounmpo finished dressing, sat in front of his locker and looked up.

Usually, that’s the signal a player is ready to begin his postgame interview.

The swarm of reporters in the visiting locker room barely even turned his direction.

“No media?” Antetokounmpo asked rhetorically as he feigned leaving. “OK.”

That the MVP favorite was an afterthought in the Bucks’ 119-103 Game 3 win over the Pistons on Saturday is a tribute to Milwaukee’s strength as a team. Four Bucks outscored Antetokounmpo as Milwaukee again crushed Detroit to take a 3-0 series lead.

All 132 teams up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series have won the series – most of them by sweep. The Bucks – who haven’t won a playoff series in the previous 17 years – can close this one in Game 4 Monday.

“It’s going to be a nice feeling, winning my first playoff series,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting back down. “And it’s going to be a nice feeling, the team getting out of the first round. And it’s going to be keep going. Whoever we play in the second round, I know it’s far away from here – six, seven days away – but whoever we play, we’re going to try to win.”

Forgive Antetokounmpo for looking ahead. Even for a team up 3-0, Milwaukee has looked particularly dominant.

The Bucks have outscored Detroit by 72 points so far – the second-largest margin through three games of a best-of-seven series. Here are the biggest combined margins through three games of all series (game scores in parentheses):

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Antetokounmpo (14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, five fouls, four turnovers,) just never got got in a groove. The Bucks even got outscored by seven points with Antetokounmpo on the floor.

But Khris Middleton (20 points), Brook Lopez (19 points), Eric Bledsoe (19 points), Ersan Ilyasova (15 points), Nikola Mirotic (12 points) and George Hill (11 points) stepped up. The Bucks were +23 without Antetokounmpo – one of their best-ever marks while the superstar sat.

“It’s not just all about Giannis, as amazing and great as he is,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said.

For the Pistons, it wasn’t all about Blake Griffin.

Detroit’s best and most important player surprisingly played through knee pain that sidelined him the first two games. Griffin (27 points and six assists) had his moments, but he was clearly hobbled. Though the Pistons’ offense flowed far better with Griffin, their defense remains no match for the Bucks’ elite attack. Especially with Griffin slowed.

In a skid dating back to 2008, the Pistons have now tied the Knicks (2001-2012) for longest playoff-game losing streak at 13 games.

Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are the only current Pistons who played in a 2016 sweep to the Cavaliers. Nearly everything – arena, ownership, front office coaching staff, players – has changed since a 2009 sweep to Cleveland, which was preceded by dropping the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals the year prior against the Celtics.

But this record now falls on the franchise.

Here are the longest playoff-game losing streaks of all time:

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With a deep supporting cast he truly seems to enjoy and a win, it was easy for Antetokounmpo to brush off his lackluster game.

“Hey, there’s going to be nights like this,” Antetokounmpo said.

For Detroit, a lot of them.

Nuggets beat Spurs 117-103 to tie series at 2-2

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 29 points and 12 rebounds, Jamal Murray added 24 points and the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs 117-103 on Saturday night, rebounding from a flat performance tie the first-round series at two games apiece.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points and nine rebounds for San Antonio. DeMar DeRozan added 19 points before he was ejected with five minutes remaining after arguing with an official over an offensive foul.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Denver.

The Nuggets were more aggressive and physical after a deflating Game 3 loss, just as Denver coach Michael Malone had hoped.

“I want to see some emotion. I want to see some fire. I want to see some passion,” Malone said prior to the game.

Malone was able to stir that fire with a couple of changes after Derrick White‘s 36-point outing in San Antonio’s Game 3 victory.

Torrey Craig started over a struggling Will Barton and was charged with defending White to open the game, with Murray switching to Forbes. The moves proved beneficial, if not at first.

White was limited to eight points on 3-for-8 shooting after going 15 for 21 on Thursday. Craig finished with 18 points, going 5 for 7 on 3-pointers. Barton finished with 12 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts.

Down by 12 points in the first quarter, Denver outscored San Antonio 69-45 in the second and third.

Aldridge had 13 points in the opening quarter, shooting 5 for 9. His final points of the quarter came when he grabbed a miss by Marco Belineli and slammed it back in. Denver rallied in the second, with Jokic and Murray combining for 15 points as the Nuggets outscored 34-22.

The Spurs stopped driving to the basket and the Nuggets began making their 3-pointers.

Denver finished 15-for-31 on 3-pointers.

 

Trail Blazers’ Maurice Harkless fined $15,000 for throwing headband into stands

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Nobody wants your sweat.

I guess that’s the message the league was trying to send Portland’s Maurice Harkless, who was fined $15,000 by the league office for “throwing” his Ninja-style headband into the crowd near the end of Portland’s Friday night loss to Oklahoma City.

“Throwing” is a strong word for the light toss he made, not that the officials cared, Harkless was given a technical and ejected at the time for the move.

Harkless was fired up as he and Russell Westbrook had been jawing at each other before the ejection.

 

Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan ejected after throwing ball at referee Scott Foster in frustration

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Scott Foster and his officiating crew refereed Game 3 between the Clippers and Warriors Thursday night, and by the end players on both teams were frustrated enough with the tightly — but not consistently — called game they were ready to throw the ball at Foster.

San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan couldn’t resist the urge.

Near the end of the Nuggets’ road win over the Spurs — which sends the series back to Denver tied 2-2 — DeRozan was given a charge call from Foster, then threw the ball in his direction out of frustration. When the notoriously short-fused Foster realized what happened, he ejected DeRozan. The league will back Foster on this, it can’t have players throwing balls at officials or making other grand gestures to show them up.

But DeRozan’s sentiment is easy to understand.

The Athletic did a survey asked about a quarter of NBA players a series of questions, including, “Who is the worst ref?” Foster came in second with 20.7 percent of the vote (Tony Brothers won the “honor,” and he is working the playoffs as well).

Expect Foster to keep working deep into the playoffs, he has officiated 18 Finals games in his career.