Coming into this series, much was made of each team’s ability to play small with Kevin Durant and LeBron James at the 4, surrounded by three perimeter players and a lone big man. These units were very effective for both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat during the regular season and through the postseason’s first three rounds, and it was easy to see why for each. Durant and James, as dominant as they are playing their “natural” position of small forward, are even better when sliding down a spot in the lineup; KD registered a PER of 33.0 as a small-ball 4, and LeBron bettered it with a 37.1 of his own.
- Oklahoma City starts the game with their usual lineup of Westbrook-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka-Perkins.
- James Harden enters for Ibaka at 5:39, the Thunder down 16-2. Four “smalls” and Perkins remain on the floor.
- Nick Collison replaces Perkins at 3:39, OKC trailing 25-12. Four smalls and Collison comprise the Thunder’s on-floor unit. Perkins stays on the bench for the remainder of the first half.
- Ibaka relieves Westbrook at :35, Miami leading 25-12. A traditional lineup of three smalls and Ibaka-Collison finish the quarter.
- Thunder trail Heat 27-15 at the first quarter’s conclusion.
- Oklahoma City opens the quarter with same quintet that finished the first: Harden-Fisher-Sefolosha-Ibaka-Collison.
- Durant enters for Collison at 9:38, OKC down 33-20. Thunder go small with Ibaka as lone big.
- OKC plays the remainder of the first half with four perimeter players and Ibaka. Go into half-time trailing Miami 55-43.
- The Thunder open the second half with their usual starters: Westbrook-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka-Perkins.
- Harden replaces Ibaka at 5:39, OKC down 70-55. Thunder go small again with Perkins as lone big.
- Collison comes in for Perkins at :56, Miami leading 76-65. Small lineup still utilized.
- Quarter ends with Heat up 11, 78-67.
- Small unit of Westbrook-Fisher-Harden-Durant-Collison open game’s final stanza for OKC.
- Ibaka replaces Collison at 4:31, the Thunder now down 90-86. Small lineup still utilized. Collison done for the night.
- Fisher enters for Ibaka at :50, Miami leading 98-91. First time all game that Oklahoma City has played with no big on the floor. Ibaka done for the night.
- Perkins comes in for Sefolosha at :12, OKC down 99-96. Thunder back to normal small ball.
- Game ends: Miami Heat 100 Oklahoma City Thunder 96
There’s many aspects and factors to glean from the information above, but none more simple and far-reaching than our notions after watching game 2 and looking at the box score. Look at it like this: Perkins was in for the portion of the game that gave the Heat their big lead, Collison and four smalls were in for the portion of the game that Oklahoma City finally cut it down, and traditional lineups with two Thunder bigs had a net plus/minus of -18. Simple, easy, and hardly surprising.
We all know the major influence Collison has on the Thunder at both ends of the floor, questioned Perkins’ place in the OKC lineup in the past and doubted his role in the NBA Finals coming in, and certainly understand Ibaka’s importance as a shot-blocker and sometimes floor-spacer against the Heat. The question isn’t whether or not Brooks and the Oklahoma City coaching staff do, too; it’s whether or not they feel comfortable rocking the boat enough to reduce Perkins to a bit player, rely on small-ball far more than they ever have, and perhaps reflect each aspect in OKC’s game 3 starting lineup. The latter is unlikely, but each former approach is one Brooks almost has to utilize for the Thunder’s success in the remainder of this series.