Transcript: NBA Finals Preview Media Conference Call with ESPN NBA Analyst Kendrick Perkins


Transcript: NBA Finals Preview Media Conference Call with ESPN NBA Analyst Kendrick Perkins

ESPN NBA Analyst Kendrick Perkins answered questions on Thursday to preview the 2024 NBA Finals Presented by YouTubeTV, which tip off on ABC on June 6.

Q. The Boston Celtics being in the Finals, is this theirs to lose? And also, is there anything you can add to what’s going on with the Minnesota/Dallas series, any surprises to you, any disappointments to you as the series continues?

KENDRICK PERKINS: Well, appreciate you taking the time. It is the Celtics’ series to lose. I stand firm on this. It’s championship or bust for this Celtic team.

They have all the right pieces. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to me are under the most pressure as far as players out of any other player in the NBA because of the great job that the front office has done as far as making sure they have the necessary pieces around them to complete the mission and making it to the Finals is unacceptable.

That’s what I was taught from playing in Boston for eight and a half years. It’s either hanging a banner or it’s nothing. So, making a run to the Finals and not completing the mission, that’s not the standard in the city of champions when it comes down to Boston.

When you think about Minnesota, I think, one, I’m not trying to make any excuses for them, but when you go through a tough seven-game series and it goes to a Game 7 and you have that emotional roller coaster ride like they did against the Denver Nuggets, it takes time to regroup from that.

And again, it’s a learning process for all of those guys outside of Mike Conley. They’ve never been in that situation before. Like Coach Finch said after Game 1, he had to tell them, hey, the Western Conference Finals has started. I think Coach Finch finally made an adjustment by putting Anthony Edwards on Luka.

I think Game 4, which I believe he waited too late to kind of tweak a lot of things, when making that adjustment I think we saw more energized Anthony Edwards in the fourth quarter. He had his legs.

Because it’s a lot different — I think it plays to his advantage for him to go on Luka and not Kyrie. Luka’s style of play, his pace is a lot slower, which benefits and helps Anthony Edwards.

Again, he has the upper body strength to absorb the contact that Luka imposes on anybody. You’re not going to stop Luka. He’s too great of a player. But you can slow him down, right.

So, KAT made shots and now you have a Minnesota team at this point, they have zero pressure on them. Nobody is expecting them to win the series. Everybody is just waiting for them to get eliminated, and that’s a dangerous thing to play with if you’re the Dallas Mavericks.

I believe that this is going back to Dallas for a Game 6. I think Minnesota is going to win tonight. I really do. I think they’re going to get one in front of their home crowd. Guys are going to make shots.

I think this is probably going to be the first game that’s not close in this series. I think Minnesota is going to win in great fashion, to be honest with you.

Q. Just curious for your thoughts on where the Celtics are now waiting to find out who their opponent is. You mentioned recently you thought Jaylen was outplaying Jayson. Do you still feel that way or is there some context to add to that?

KENDRICK PERKINS: There is some context, and I do feel that way. I think consistently he’s been the best player in this postseason. Averaging around close to 26 points, might be a little bit higher, shooting almost 55 percent from the field, and he’s dominating on both ends of the floor.

His defense, defensively, he hasn’t gotten enough credit for what he’s been doing.

I thought he completely took over that Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers on both ends of the floor. Key block, key steal, timely bucket, timely assist to Derrick White for the corner three. You’re just seeing the growth.

I think the best thing that happened for the Boston Celtics and the worst thing that happened for the rest of the league is Jaylen Brown not getting selected to the all-NBA team, because after he hit that 40 points, after he had 40 points in Game 2, I believe it was. In his postgame interview, I could see it in his face, he was pissed off. I was like, oh, yeah, people are in trouble.

At the end of the day, I think this is also a learning process for Tatum and Brown. I see a lot of people getting in their feelers, like, oh, the national media, they’re trying to pit the two against one another, but that’s not the case. It’s actually a good thing.

Two young superstars, in my eyes, balling, and we’re going to have these conversations about whose team is it, who’s the Batman, who’s the Robin. We did it when Giannis and Khris Middleton were both playing well for the Milwaukee Bucks when they won it. We did it when the Suns was making their run to the NBA Finals for Chris Paul and Devin Booker.

I mean, hell, they were doing it with Kobe and Shaq. That should be a badge of honor for them. It shouldn’t be nothing like taking, well, we’re trying to separate the two. It should make them go out there and perform and continue to put up the numbers that they’re putting up.

Everybody is getting their feelers, especially they get mad at me. I have to tell them I don’t work for the Boston Celtics. I actually work for ESPN, which I can’t be a home, I can’t be biased. If I feel some type of way, I’m going to say it.

Do I wish they would run for the championship? Hell yeah, I’m going to root for them to win the championship, but I’ve still got to do my job.

Q. In terms of Dallas, is the way to get to them to make Luka play defense, to get him — obviously he’s in solid shape, but obviously never been in the greatest shape, but he still obviously can play 40, 45 minutes. Is the way to wear him down to make him defend, and is that probably the Celtics’ best shot is to make him work on both sides of the ball as opposed to having him kind of relax on defense?

KENDRICK PERKINS: It is, but you know, to be honest, I’m looking at Luka, and he’s doing the same thing that Jokic did last postseason. He’s actually embracing that role of being picked on, right? He’s been sliding those puppies. He’s been taking charges. He’s been doing everything that he needs to do.

What Dallas does a great job of, and J Kidd has to get a lot of credit, they play boxes and elbows like no other. And I think when you look at the pieces that they surrounded Luka with, with size and athleticism, right, to cover up for his defensive — for being a defensive liability at times, when you think about PJ Washington, Derrick Jones, Jr., whether it’s Dereck Lively or Daniel Gafford, they do a great job of loading up and taking away driving gaps.

So although Luka may seem like he’s on an island at the time, there’s always a person that’s either sitting at the nail or sitting at the elbow, and what they’re banking on is hey, you’re going to have to hit tough, contested threes or twos on us because if you drive to the paint, we have shot blocking. We’re going to contest every shot, and if you make those shots, kudos to you.

I think you do have to try to wear Luka down, but Luka is just a different breed. You can tell the leadership that Kyrie has brought this year is rubbing off on them. Who’s been underrated as far as a defender is Kyrie Irving, right? You go back and watch the Clippers series — James Jordan was cooking early in that series, and all of a sudden Kyrie Irving was like, nah, I got him.

You go to the Oklahoma City, yes, SGA was getting all, but if you go and watch the fourth quarter, Kyrie Irving was like, “No, I got him.”

They’re playing with a different type of vibe defensively, and they’re just good — they’re really, really good in that shell defense.

I think you try to pick on Luka, you try to search him out, and again, if you’re Dallas and you’re Luka, if you’re trying to win a championship, then it’s going to be hard.

But remember this, though: Boston tried to do the same thing against Steph Curry when they lost to him in the Finals. They were trying to search him out, and there was moments where I saw Steph Curry actually going Al Horford on the low block and was doing a pretty damn good job of it.

So, it’s all about your will, it’s all about your wants, but Boston is still a dangerous team. Again, Dallas, if they are going to end this series, they need to end it quickly so that they can prepare for Boston and try to get ready for them because we know Boston is a team that has a lot of weapons, especially at the three-point line, so it’s a completely different coverage.

Q. I wanted to talk to you about some of the narrative stuff. We know why we’re not really trusting the Boston Celtics in terms of their playoff credentials, but do you feel that the Mavericks are also kind of being overlooked based on a national media narrative? What do you see as the narratives in a potential Mavs/Celtics matchup for the Finals that will be the dominant narrative? People are focusing on a potential Kyrie return, a Kristaps return, but there’s more to this series. I wonder your take on what the narrative of the series actually will be.

KENDRICK PERKINS: Well, when we think about the Mavs, no one really expected them to be true title contenders. I thought before the Playoffs that they could make a deep run into the postseason. I didn’t think they had a legit shot at actually winning a title. I didn’t really — I knew they got better at the trade deadline, but I didn’t know they were this dangerous.

It’s crazy how — think about this for a second. PJ Washington came from arguably one of the worst situations in the league, right, from the Hornets. Okay, PJ Washington comes from the Hornets. They’re losing, getting their ass kicked.

Daniel Gafford come from the Wizards. We know how that was going over there with Jordan Poole and Kuzma.

All of a sudden, they come to this organization and they’re playing winning basketball and they’re looking like winners. Huge part of Dallas’ success. Those guys can play.

I mean, PJ Washington was a lottery pick. PJ Washington is what you need in today’s game. I don’t know one team that is still competing well right now, but that was called legit title contenders before the Playoffs started that didn’t have a 3 and D guy.

Dallas finally got their guy. They thought it was going to be Grant Williams, but it wasn’t. Now it’s PJ Washington.

You look at Boston, they have a big guy. They have multiple guys at that position. Then you look at Denver, Denver has Aaron Gordon on. You look at Minnesota, they have the kid Jaden McDaniels.

All these guys fill their void of having their 3 and D guy. You have Pascal Siakam for Indiana, OG Anunoby for the Knicks before he got hurt. I think it’s the most important position in the NBA to try to go and compete for a title.

When you look at the potential matchup with the Mavs and the Celtics, you can’t help but, like you mentioned, to look at the return of Kyrie to Boston. That matchup is going to go a long way. You think about that, and you think, oh, man, how is key rye going to be able to handle it.

I know the Boston fans, they’re cutthroat. They’re going to be on him or whatever the case may be. Then you wonder about Kristaps Porzingis going against his former team, but then you also wonder what is the relationship between Kristaps Porzingis and Luka because here’s another thing.

How would Luka look if Kristaps Porzingis beats him on the biggest stage to win a championship. People are going to say, well, why couldn’t you get it done with Kristaps Porzingis, but Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum can.

If people think that Luka is not thinking about that, they’re crazy as hell. The guy is a competitor.

There’s so many stories and there’s so many individual matchups that are personal, that’s what’s going to make this series so fun. You’re going to have high-style environments in Boston.

Dallas is a high-style environment, as well. It’s going to make a great NBA Finals, I’m just saying if the Mavs advance, which we all think they will, but it’s going to be a Finals that we’re going to be talking about for the ages.

I don’t think it’s going to be a five-game series, a six-game series. I’ve got the Celtics, if they match up with the Mavs, winning that series in seven.

Q. I wanted to ask you, you’re a rising star, doing really well as a broadcaster. Big men are doing really well at this job. Why are big men good as analysts and commentary? What’s your take on that? A lot of times they say for instance in fast break maybe offensive line men are wiser than everybody else. What’s your take on it?

KENDRICK PERKINS: Well, because one, big men just have better personality than guards do. That’s it. That’s number one. We’re authentic.

I think when you think about big men, we have to have a certain type or level of personality because every room since a kid we walked into, we always get these unwanted conversations. We get these conversations about oh, man, you’re tall as hell, how tall are you, and then you vibe into these conversations with strangers that you don’t know.

So eventually you learn to have this personality because a lot of guys that are big and tall, like you’re shy. Like they’re usually shy and they have to grow out of it.

But it’s real cool to watch a lot of guys just come into this space. Obviously, you’ve got Charles Barkley and Shaq, but then even when you look at Udonis Haslem coming into this space, real authentic, great personality, he’s funny as hell.

But it also shows that we also know the game, as well. I think that’s also a problem that we have in the coaching space when it comes to head coaches in the NBA because if you look at it, you don’t see big guys walking up and down the sidelines being head coaches. They don’t really get a fair shot. All it is is like shooting guards and point guards. Like they’re the only persons that know the game of basketball.

It’s just part of it, but I’m glad the big men are stepping up for the league, man. Because when you look at NBA TV, you have Brandon Haywood who does an excellent job. Who else? You have Channing Frye. So, there’s personalities all across the board.

Q. You were never shy, right? You said big men tend to be shy. Were you ever shy?

KENDRICK PERKINS: Yeah, I was. I was. When I was young. I got past that around the age of like 14, 15, but yeah, between those ages, I was shy a little bit.

Q. Anything else that you haven’t been asked about of these upcoming Finals that you would want to be known about or something that may not be looked at so obviously but should be looked at and focused on as we look at these Finals coming up?

KENDRICK PERKINS: Well, the one thing is in order to win a championship, you’ve got to come — you have all these sayings, strength in numbers, 15 deep. I ain’t going to lie, I was a little concerned about the depth of Boston. I know Payton Pritchard has been pretty good throughout the Playoffs. I didn’t know he was that good, to be honest with you.

In the Indiana series, Hauser, is he going to start making shots for the Celtics. Obviously, they’re top heavy. They get Kristaps Porzingis back, they’ll probably move Al Horford to the bench or depending on who they play, they might have two bigs because you might have Karl-Anthony Towns and have the face card at times with Rudy.

That’s what I’m looking at. Somebody is going to have to step up off the bench and do what they do. We’re watching the Mavs right now and the kid Hardy. He’s been fantastic in this series. You’re looking at Naz Reid, kid Kyle Anderson playing heavy minutes off the bench.

Just curious to see Payton Pritchard is who I got my eye on because I know he can rise to the occasion. The kid has been a baller ever since he’s been at Oregon. I know he’s capable of doing it, and he’s been pretty damn good throughout this postseason.

I think he’s going to really have to be their spark for them off the bench consistently throughout the NBA Finals.

Q. I just wanted to get your thoughts on the presence and the difference this year in Boston with the president Jrue Holiday. He’s a guy that has — he’s kind of the consummate teammate, does everything he’s supposed to do, plays D, doesn’t say much. I don’t think he has ever had an adversary or enemy in this league in like 12, 13 years. He just seems like a guy that everybody has a high amount of respect for. What has he meant to the Celtics in terms of their success this year, and what kind of guy is he?

KENDRICK PERKINS: Well, I shared a locker room withdrew holiday for a year when he played for the Pelicans. He’s in my top 5 boys, my best teammates. Jrue Holiday is somewhat like a Nick Collison. Don’t say much, but he holds you accountable by the way he approaches every day as far as his professionalism. He’s going to attack the weight room. He’s going to get his work in on the court. He’s going to practice hard. He’s going to get treatment. He’s not going to be a cancer. Even when things are not going well for him, he’s always bought in.

He’s the true definition of even keel. He’s not going to talk loud, but through his play, he holds guys accountable because you watch Jrue and say, damn, if he’s playing that hard, I’ve got to pick my s— up. That’s what Jrue Holiday is about.

There’s not fake about him. This is who he is, on and off the court. If you go to dinner with him, he’s still the same humble cool individual that’s about his family, that’s about his brothers, that’s about his wife, that’s about his children, but he’s about his business.

One of the great individuals I’ve ever been around, played with, and he’s never — he’s always uplifting. That saying that loudest guy in the room don’t make you the toughest guy, he’s a prime example of that. He’s not the loudest but one can never say he’s not one of the toughest.

Q. Another question about a potential Mavs/Celtics Finals. Give me your impression of the coaching on both sides, seeing as both of the head coaches of the Mavs and the Celtics have been criticized for their coaching in the very recent past but have obviously taken very big leaps forward this season. Who has the advantage and what do you think of their respective growth as coaches?

KENDRICK PERKINS: Well, you know what, Joe Mazzulla, he’s earned my respect. By earning my respect, I knew at least he had to do what Ime Udoka did with this team and get them to the NBA Finals. Now he has to elevate his game even more and get them past the NBA Finals to win the NBA championship.

I believe he actually has a bag to get into. I think he has a deep bag. A lot of guys that been in the locker room with Joe Mazzulla, his assistant coach Sam Cassell told me he’s one of the smartest guys he’s ever been around. He’s a hell of a coach. Sam told me that, and Sam has been around the block, as a player and as a coach. So, for Sam to put that stamp on him made me be like, damn, because I know how Sam feels about a lot of coaches that he played for, a lot of coaches that he was under as an assistant coach.

When it comes to J Kidd, I’m just watching J Kidd get the best out of his two superstars. When you’re able to challenge them defensively and they’re responding right now, that shows a level of coaching.

When you’re able to get the best out of a rookie — and one could say that Dereck Lively has been outplaying Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy in this series. He’s a rookie, and when you’re able to get the best out of a rookie and you’re watching a rookie anchor a defense at this age on one of the biggest stages in the NBA, that’s high praises to your coach. When you’re watching Luka and Kyrie finally start to trust the others, they’re making that extra pass with no hesitation, it’s good energy on those passes going to the lob, whether it’s to Dereck Lively or whether it’s to Daniel Gafford or whether it’s a corner pass to PJ Washington or Derrick Jones, Jr., they’re passing it with energy and trusting that you’re going to knock it down.

There was one play in particular last game at the end of the half, I watched Kyrie go to the wing and he let the kid Hardy get in his bag and let him go to work, and he scored a layup, and I was like, damn, Kyrie didn’t even come clapping for the ball or nothing. That’s an extension of your coach.

So, both of those guys need their flowers; J Kidd and Joe Mazzulla. It’s going to be fun. Like I said, you have two matchups going on. You have the guys that’s playing in between the lines, and you also have the matchup of those two guys that’s walking up and down that sideline.

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