SAN ANTONIO -- Kendrick Perkins started smiling before the question was completed. He knew where it was headed, and it's a place where he has spent plenty of time himself, wondering how an Oklahoma City Thunder team with so much talented, young energy can hit lulls the way it did in the fourth quarter of Game 4 or the entirety of Game 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
"I think you need all the guys to be tied on one string," Perkins said. "It only takes one guy to mess up the position, or to break the trust of the defense. And I think that's what happens. I think more so, with our team, if we miss shots and things are not going well on the offensive end in some games, we tend to let that have an effect on what we do on the defensive end. We've got to do a better job of just staying with it. Even if we come out and we're shooting 15 percent for the quarter, we've got to do a better job of just locking in."
Perkins isn't afraid to criticize his team. He knows that if he simply talks and acts like things will work out on their own then they won't, especially against the San Antonio Spurs. If the Thunder are going to beat the Spurs they can't afford down time. They can't feel sorry because they don't have defensive anchor Serge Ibaka, who's out with an injured calf. They can't let inefficient offense turn into insufficient defense.
You know whose example they could follow? The Spurs. The Thunder already built their team off the Spurs' franchise blueprint -- an unassuming superstar surrounded by players committed to a common culture -- so they might as well adopt the Spurs' mindset.
San Antonio didn't sweat when Tim Duncan shot 43 percent during the first month of the season. They simply went out and won 14 of their first 17 games. They won 11 of the 14 games they played without Tony Parker over the course of the season, including 4-1 when Gregg Popovich imposed a sabbatical on Parker in mid-February. Kawhi Leonard missed 16 games and the Spurs always marched on. When Parker goes out, Patty Mills steps in and shoots fearlessly. Tiago Splitter always provides a little more than you expect.
Again, the Thunder are modeled after the Spurs. That includes as much duplication of roles as possible. Think of Reggie Jackson backing up Russell Westbrook, or Steven Adams subbing for Perkins. The problem is that Ibaka's absence takes away some of coach Scott Brooks' flexibility. He can't go with the lineup featuring Ibaka as the only true big man that the analytics crowd always clamors for. He also can't count on switching defensive assignments on Parker to turn around the series as he did when the Thunder overcame a 2-0 deficit to win the Western Conference finals in 2012.
Stopping the Spurs is no longer as simple as stopping Parker. His scoring and assists are down from 2012, as are his usage rate and win shares. San Antonio is less dependent on him; the Spurs come at you from more angles, making them tougher to defend. Also the luxury of leaving Perkins in single coverage against Duncan, as the Thunder did in 2012, poses more of a challenge because Duncan now operates at the top of the key more than he did before, when he stuck to the low block.
The Spurs have evolved over the years. The question is whether the Thunder have tightened up some of the weaknesses they dealt with as recently as their last series. Of course, they do have one notable upgrade: an even better version of Kevin Durant.