Well, well, well...that wasn't too shabby. It looked rough there for a while but in the end the Blazers played as hard as they needed to. Good enough.
The Blazers played three quarters of so-so ball tonight. The good "so" was efficient movement of the basketball leading to open shots on most possessions. The Blazers' shooting percentage remained high all night which usually keeps you in the game. The bad "so" was a tendency to let the Thunder wings get behind us in transition, giving up extra chances from offensive boards, and rotating slow enough to draw fouls. That combination meant that staying in the game was about all we could achieve despite the shooting. Greg Oden had a fantastic offensive/offensive rebounding game through the first three quarters but if he wasn't scoring in the paint we were throwing up jumpers. The lack of aggression meant that we weren't getting to the line as much as the Thunder. This, too, kept us even instead of ahead.
Portland had a nice run to close the first half, capped by a thunderous two-handed Super Trout special with .7 (that's seven-tenths) seconds left on the clock. Unfortunately as soon as the third period started we gave it back. Jeff Green and Kevin Durant scored like frat boys at a Junior High dance. (Yeah, it was that sick.) Russell Westbrook wasn't hitting many shots but he had 8 offensive rebounds on the night, most of them in the third quarter. Let's say that again. Russell Westbrook, point guard, had 8 offensive rebounds. I mean, he is a good rebounder and all, but that's still Barry Manilow-level wrong.
This points out something that might be of note in the Great Trade Debates. It's not surprising that Durant, Green, and Westbrook managed these feats. That's what they do. What's surprising is how long it takes us to adjust and shut down certain things. Everybody on the floor and on both benches knows what's going on, but there are just un-pluggable holes out there. Our point guards are interesting, talented, perhaps destined to be special, but there are too many weaknesses there without Blake. Our small forwards get overpowered quite a bit. They're just not able to defend consistently. It's one thing to see this in a February game against the Thunder, but when you get into a 7-game playoff series and you have an obvious weakness the opponent is just going to keep putting pressure where you're thinnest. When you don't have a stopgap, even an emergency one, that's trouble. Our guys will eventually pick up what they need to know but a well-placed veteran or two could make a world of difference both this year and in the learning curve of our current guys.
In any case, after goofing around for the better part of three quarters the Blazers built the fire right and lit it up in the fourth. The adumbration came with about 4:40 left in the third when Greg Oden threw down a dunk. All of a sudden the light came on to take it inside. Enter Jerryd Bayless. Enter Joel Przybilla. Now we're breaking down the Thunder horribly which freed up the entire three-point arc. When we're dunking and hitting three's we're hard to beat.
In the fourth quarter we stopped giving up offensive boards, started fast breaking, got some fancy passing mojo going, converted wicked layups and a dunk, hit more threes, defended hard, and stopped sending the Thunder to the line. At that point they were done. It was like a marathon where they had been just behind us the whole race, thinking about the possibility of making a move late, then all of a sudden with six miles left we hit another gear, start sprinting, and all of the air goes out of their lungs. If we were only going to play one quarter of great basketball that was the one to choose. Between the high energy and the fancy scoring the outcome was never in doubt. The only bummer (for some anyway) was Damien Wilkins hitting a useless, unguarded three-pointer with 19 seconds left to push the victory margin from 17 to 14. That cost a few folks 10 points in our Jersey Contest.
The Blazers ended up at 48.8% shooting for the game to OKC's 39%. Portland hit 8 threes to 1 for the Thunder. This helped erase a 13-point deficit at the foul line. We did mention in the preview that OKC draws a lot of fouls. Other than allowing Westbrook that many offensive boards the Blazers were solid on the glass. You would have liked a few more points in the paint from Portland and fewer from Oklahoma City but you'll take it.
As you'll see in the individual notes below this game belonged to the bench as much as the starters. They did a great job exploiting the Thunder's fatigue.
Brandon Roy didn't have a bad game, but in the early going he looked like he was trying to take it over using his jumper. That's not the most dominant Brandon available, especially against the Thunder's weak defense. He got more aggressive through the third and fourth quarters. 8-18 shooting, 5-6 from the line, 22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists.
Lamarcus Aldridge got active on the offensive boards, nabbing 6 for the game along with 4 defensive rebounds for 10 total. His defense was reasonably good, especially considering the scoring prowess of some of the guys he matched up with. He scored at the rim a little but his set offense was jumper-heavy. 5-13 for 11 points.
Greg Oden manned up in this game. He was a monster on the offensive board and always followed with a put-back. He also ran into the deep post and demanded the ball a couple times, padding his scoring. He made himself available tonight better than he has in previous outings. It's like he suddenly remembered he was 7-foot tall and huge. He gave the guards a big target and for the most part they hit it. He also got a couple of massive, demoralizing blocks. His energy and mobility were high. Again, those are going to be the bywords the rest of this season and into next. One thing plaguing him right now is that he's starting to get reputation calls, and not the good kind either. The refs are anticipating fouls from him. This could be a serious long-term problem. Ask Mark Bryant about that sometime. The faster and more energetic Greg looks the fewer fouls he'll get whistled against him. 16 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks. Now do it again tomorrow please.
Nicolas Batum: 12 minutes, 2 steals, 2 turnovers. He got a little overwhelmed tonight, which happens upon occasion against big or high-powered opponents.
Sergio Rodriguez got off to a rough start and didn't really recover. He hit a three and had 4 assists but he also had 4 turnovers. The matchups weren't favorable for him tonight.
Joel Przybilla played the part of Angry Rebounding Man tonight, grabbing 13 in 23 minutes. He also had 2 steals and a block. This was quality basketball.
Jerryd Bayless was a major catalyst for the second half run. Dude has finishes that Steven King hasn't dreamed of. Though Westbrook caused him problems as well he employed the correct antidote, which was to attack the rim like crazy the other way. On the fast break or secondary break and sometimes just in the halfcourt he was a wrecking ball. He also had 8 assists to go with his 12 points.
Rudy Fernandez was another catalyst. His deep stroke was good (3-8 from distance) and he had some nifty passes (4 assists). When a weak defense is on the point of breaking Rudy knows how to shatter it. 4-12 shooting for 13 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds.
Travis Outlaw shot 8-15 overall, 3-6 from the three-point arc, and had 21 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals in 36 minutes. He couldn't defend them but they couldn't defend him either. It worked out.
Half of the job is done but the break isn't here yet. We need this game in Oakland to truly have a happy vacation. I'd trade anything that Rudy or Brandon do over the weekend for a win in this next game.
Check out WelcometoLoudCity for the OKC point of view.
See the Jersey Contest scores and enter for the Golden State game here.