The Thunder threw a fresh body/savvy veteran at Nowitzki for the final few minutes, much like the Mavs did against Bryant. In Oklahoma City’s case, it’s slimmed down center Kendrick Perkins taking over for Serge Ibaka. In the Mavs’ case, it was Jason Kidd taking over for Shawn Marion.
“It’s just a different look, and part of it is a fresh guy,” said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, who gives Perkins the freedom to decide when he wants to defend Nowitzki. “It’s not easy to guard that guy. That guy, not only does he take it out of you physically, but mentally he tortures you because he makes some of the shots that he makes. It’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
The strategy worked for the Mavs against Bryant last season. It worked for the Thunder in Game 1, when Nowitzki had two points (on a pair of free throws) and two turnovers in the final two minutes.
Perkins played 26 minutes and had particularly fresh legs because his normal defensive assignment isn’t a taxing one. The Mavs’ centers aren’t scoring threats, so it isn’t as if Perkins spends a lot of energy batting for post position or playing on-the-ball defense until he switches onto Nowitzki.
Putting Perkins on Nowitzki also has another benefit to the Thunder. It allows Ibaka, the league’s leading shot blocker, to essentially play goalie with the game on the line.