In a Nutshell
The Portland Trail Blazers got outgunned by the Oklahoma City Thunder down the stretch in another high-scoring thriller that found Rudy Fernandez open in the corner for a potential game-winning three-pointer that rimmed out. The miss allowed the Thunder to hold on for a 110-108 home win to go up 2-0 in the season series between the Northwest Divison rivals.
It was a disappointing final nine minutes of basketball for the Blazers, who did so many winning things over the course of the first 3.25 quarters of this one. The closing stretch may linger in the collective mind because victory for the Blazers, despite big-time nights from both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, was inches away.
The first quarter action began with Andre Miller asserting himself on offense, challenging Westbrook as he often has in previous meetings. Against a player with Westbrook's athletic tools and explosive offensive capabilities, it's important to make him work, and Miller did. In the post, in the mid-post, off the dribble, Miller found daylight and clean looks for himself and others.
Portland's highlight of the night was an up and under pump fake mid-range jumper/pass to himself off the backboard for the clean follow up. All that was missing was the chain link net. It's worth another look.
With Miller's backcourt partner Brandon Roy now exiting the game halfway through the first quarter as coach Nate McMillan looks for a way to keep Roy fresh late in games, Miller is seeing more touches early in the game and Portland's overall offensive activity level was pretty solid as a result. Oklahoma City's interior defense was non-existent and both Miller and backup Armon Johnson exploited that weakness.
Portland's energy carried over onto the defensive end, where the competitiveness was good, but didn't find its way to the boards too, as Oklahoma City scored on a number of putbacks in the second quarter to keep the Thunder within striking distance.
Once Roy returned, we saw his recent mantra of "picking his spots" in fine form. Roy hit for eight straight points right before halftime, including two silky three-pointers back-to-back. The Blazers led 65-61 at the half.
In the third period it was back to Andre Miller, who continued to attack the heart of Oklahoma's defense. This somewhat stagnant two-man game with LaMarcus Aldridge turned into an easy flush for Marcus Camby after Miller makes the perfectly-timed interior pass on the move.
The Thunder didn't score a single point during the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, leading coach Scottie Brooks to take a timeout and talk things over with the score 94-88 Blazers at the 9:48 mark.
Brooks' message was something along the lines of, "Kevin Durant is on our team, guys!"
Durant hit a jumper, a close-in shot, another jumper, another jumper, another jumper and a free throw to finish with 11 fourth-quarter points on his way to 34 on the night. Many of the shots were well-contested and many were tough looks. Durant knocked them down (video here), and Portland resorted to doubling the ball out of his hands in the closing sequence, only to open things up a touch for Westbrook, who also had 11 fourth quarter points.
Meanwhile, Portland's offense, which had been coming easy all night, hit a rough patch at the most inopportune time. Roy was just 2-6 from the field during the final period, and that number included some rushed and wild shots that were of the "hope and a prayer" variety. Whether Roy was tired or simply forcing down the stretch isn't entirely clear, but Portland's flow really ground to a halt.
The close to this game was doubly frustrating because there was a deja vu element to struggle, after the Thunder outlasted the Blazers in overtime in Portland just last week. Tonight, after trading free throws in the final minutes, Portland set up a fine look to win the game outright in regulation, with Fernandez spotting up in the left hand corner and receiving a pass in rhythm, but his attempt rimmed off and the Blazers couldn't cleanly corral the rebound, and time ran out.
The biggest basketball development tonight was the strong play throughout the first half, given the adjustments to the lineup that McMillan has incorporated. Portland's second unit played well, particularly in the stretches of the first half when LaMarcus Aldridge was left the only starter left on the court. Fernandez was hot, Dante "everyday I'm hustling" Cunningham was doing his thing, and Armon Johnson was blowing by his man and playing rock solid defense at the top of the key in his short stint, forcing Thunder possessions out, which is always nice to see.
The other big development tonight was the news that Roy will not have surgery in the short term, and will instead continue to play on his injured knee, but in limited minutes.With two days off and playing spot on the 35 minutes that had been discussed earlier this week, Roy looked pretty good during much of the game tonight. He hit open looks and ably defended a number of different players (including Kevin Durant). His activity level on the glass and setting up his teammates wasn't as high, so the dimensions to his game have been reduced a bit. It wasn't an issue until very late in the game, where his shooting efficiency and shot selection got away from him. But without 24 points from Roy, Portland will struggle to hit 108 against just about everybody.
The bigger test for Roy will come tomorrow against the red-hot New Orleans Hornets, on a back-to-back, in their building.
Andre Miller was the star tonight for all the reasons mentioned, plus his 7-9 from the free throw line. Those freebies are huge in upping the overall offensive efficiency.
Brandon Roy was covered pretty thoroughly above, but he had a very high-IQ play late, sneaking in for a loose offensive rebound and grabbing a putback. His nose for the ball is still there.
I mentioned overall activity earlier and Nicolas Batum was a major factor, making some nice hard cuts through the lane, including one that ended with a flip shot over his head that went in for an and-one. His final line of 21 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists was great.
LaMarcus Aldridge was there in flashes, but it wasn't enough. He needed more touches, getting only 10 shots and no free throws against a Thunder team that allowed 38 points in the paint. A few opportunities slipped away: another scoop alley oop pass from Fernandez just missed. He finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
Marcus Camby was -14 on the night. Not his best night. With Portland bombing so well from outside (7-15 as a team) and with the Blazer guards getting into the key, it wasn't the easiest game for Camby to stay involved throughout.
Wesley Matthews continues to see very little playing time, and he got torched by Westbrook on a drive when he enetered the game late in the fourth quarter for defensive purposes. His minutes went to Fernandez , who was feeling it. Matthews missed both of his three point attempts, including one where he was all squared up with a clean look. I think it's fair to say he's in his own head at this point.
Dante Cunninhgam had 4 points, 2 assists and 2 rebounds in 18 minutes, and his only miss was an ugly air ball. I wouldn't be opposed to (read: I am pushing for) Cunningham getting closer to 24 minutes a night, if not more, to pull Camby's minutes down further.
Fernandez could have been the hero and he probably should have been, as this felt like his night. He was another big creator of offensive activity, slashing into the paint, setting up teammates and knocking down his stroke. One can only imagine what hitting the three at the buzzer would have done for his confidence. He finished with 15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and just 1 turnover in 23 minutes.
Armon Johnson was only in briefly, but he got 2 points, 2 assists and a steal in five minutes. There has to be a way to get him a real run through in the second-half.
Sean Marks played two minutes. 0s across the board.
Stats of the Night
- Russell Westbrook: 36 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, +14. A more-than-legit second option who sprinted through the tape tonight. You can see how happy he makes Kevin Durant.
- Just 6 boards in 37 minutes for Camby tonight. A product of hot shooting for both teams.
- Andre Miller: 19 points and 10 assists. This kind of line could (hopefully) become more common given the team's shifting rotations described above.
- After Brook's timeout, the Thunder closed the game on a 26-16 run, including a 10-0 stretch keyed mostly by Durant.
- The two teams have now played a combined 101 minutes this season, with the Thunder leading 217-214. Remarkable.
In case you missed it before the game, Blazer rookie Elliot Williams had successful surgery on his right knee today and is schedule to have a surgery on his left knee (!) in six weeks.
Head over to Welcome to Loud City for the Thunder perspective.
You can also check out my CBS partner in crime Royce Young over at Daily Thunder.
Dave will come through later with your Jersey Contest scoreboard and entry.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter