Media Row Report: Thunder 107, Blazers 106

The Portland Trail Blazers gave away a 13-point lead Thursday night, getting bogged down on offense and getting out-hustled on defense down the stretch to lose 107-106 in overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Rose Garden. 

As always, Dave did an excellent job of breaking down the blow-by-blow

It's super late, so I will bottom-line this one: you won't win many games if you don't score a single point in the first 4 minutes and 19 seconds of overtime. Despite the second-half collapse, despite the missed game-winner to close regulation by Brandon Roy, despite the failure to box out on numerous occasions, the Blazers were dead even with a five minute period to go. Portland's guys vs. Oklahoma's guys. The Thunder weren't clicking very well on offense in the extra time, either, but the seven points they managed were more than enough to overcome the Blazers, who forced up contested jumpers and committed turnovers, and just looked plain bad in the game's closing minutes.

Overtime came down to a battle of wills and legs, as both teams didn't go very deep into their respective benches (OKC played 8 guys plus four minutes from Cole Aldrich on the second night of a back-to-back, the Blazers played eight guys, period). Roy played 46 minutes and was 0-4 during the fourth quarter and overtime. Kevin Durant played 52 minutes and was 3-10 during the fourth quarter and overtime. Russell Westbook played 43 minutes and was 2-9 during the fourth quarter and overtime. The Blazers had enough in the tank to win this in regulation and they should have. But their poor execution in overtime proved they didn't have enough to go 53 minutes even though, to their credit, Roy and others refused to use fatigue as an excuse afterwards.

There were many problems on offense down the stretch and just about every Blazer was culpable. Andre Miller forced some shots. LaMarcus Aldridge went back to his fadeaway game after he had found early success down low (especially on the quick-spin alleyoops). Nicolas Batum just floated and floated and floated. And Brandon Roy continued to settle for jumper after jumper after contested jumper.

Indeed, coach Nate McMillan used the word "settle" four times during the first three questions after the game and while he specifically pointed to a couple Roy drives that drew fouls, there's no question he is seeing the same inefficiency as everyone else. 6-17 from the field simply won't cut it. Not when the opposing team's star goes 11-24. Those field goal numbers might not seem that different, but that's an efficiency chasm in a playoff type game. There are really only two solutions: get better shots or take fewer shots.

As a team, Portland was just 16-50 (!!!!) during the second half and overtime. That, after shooting 64.3% in the first half. Unreal.

Defensively, Portland simply got out-worked. Russell Westbrook helicoptered in for tipped boards. Jeff Green went flying into the corner to save a critical late possession. Most of the major indicators you look at to determine a winner actually fell Portland's way. The Blazers forced more turnovers (16 to 10) and shared the ball better (27 assists to 12!), and they had far more shots from the field (92-81). But they got beaten on the boards (47 to 38), especially when it mattered, and at the free throw line (24-26 for the Thunder, compared to 16-20 for the Blazers). As McMillan notes below, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge, who combined for 38 points, also combined to shoot 0-0 from the free throw line. Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, on the other hand, combined for 47 points, including 9-9 from the stripe.

That difference is stark and telling. Those free throw numbers get straight to the heart of the issue tonight.  At the sloppy end to a thrilling game, Oklahoma City was the aggressor. An exhausted aggressor, perhaps, but still the aggressor. And that made all the difference. 

Random Game Notes

  • In case you missed this earlier on Thursday, the Blazers are set to work out five players to fill Fabricio Oberto's spot now that the aging Argentinian is retiring. Those five players: Earl Barron, Eric Boateng, Dwayne Jones, Sean Marks and Shavlik Randolph.
  • I guess that means "Oberto" is the Spanish word for "Tolliver."
  • Blazers guard Elliot Williams is done for the year. Here's what he had to say about that after the game tonight.
  • Rudy Fernandez was a late scratch tonight due to back tightness. More information below.
  • Portland Trail Blazers President Larry Miller gave a brief pre-game address to acknowledge the passing of Maurice Lucas and to hold a moment of silence in memory of the former power forward and assistant coach. Throughout the game, highlights of Lucas' career as a player and coach were shown on the big screen, including video of him squaring off with Darryl Dawkins and video of him hitting a halfcourt shot for charity. Pretty amazing presentation all-around. Loud, extended "Luuuuke" chants were audible throughout the night.  The best section in the Rose Garden, Section 314, started a "Maurice Lu-Cas, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap" chant which caught on throughout much of the arena. Pretty excellent.
  • Ezra Caraeff raised a great point tonight: there's a twisted irony when a referee whistles a delay of game call because the act of whistling the delay actually delays the game longer than whatever the original action that drew the call.  This somehow led me to envision a true basketball nightmare, much like one of those Escher illusion paintings, where a referee that whistles a delay of game penalty on a player is then assessed a delay of game penalty by another referee, who in turn is whistled for a delay of game penalty by the third referee, who then gets tagged by the first referee for delaying the game, and on, and on, and on in an endless triangle. I will definitely be thinking about this scenario as I try to fall asleep tonight. It's like counting sheep for the basketball obsessive, except sadistic instead of cute.
  • Is someone making a master mix tape of all of these LaMarcus Aldridge lob dunks? Please?
  • It was "no more Mr. Nice Guy" from Kevin Durant before tonight's game. Last year, he was all pleasantries and smiles. Tonight, after coming off an ugly loss to the Clippers on Wednesday, Durant was all business, as serious as I'd ever seen him. Pretty pumped up afterwards, too. 
  • Blazersedge made the Twitter.com homepage for this picture of Squatch, the Seattle SuperSonics' mascot, showing up at Blazers/Thunder in the Rose Garden with a "homeless" sign. Watch out. I might go Oberto on you and retire now that the rest of my career is so obviously downhill from this peak.
  • More from the game over at CBS.

Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments

Overtime

Well, I don't think it was just overtime. It was the whole game, it comes down to rebounding the ball. Getting stops. And then offensively having execution. I thought they just dominated the boards. In regulation, the last possession they get two tips at the basket. And just defensive breakdowns. Controlling the ball, keeping Westbrook out of the middle, and then boxing out the rebounds. I thought offensively we settled for a lot of jumpshots and there were opportunities to drive. 

Did you run out of gas being short-handed?

No, I thought we settled. I thought there were lanes to drive and get to the basket against this team and there were a few times we settled for the jump shot. We shot the ball well the first half. And second half, we continued to just rely on the jump shot as opposed to attacking, being aggressive, playing from the inside out. We played on the perimeter tonight.

Last play of regulation, Brandon's shot

We had an iso. We had the match-up we wanted. Basically we wanted to put him on a side with Nic and give him that side to get to the basket. He felt he had Durant and Durant played pretty good defense on that possession.

Did offense change when Durant switched on to Roy?

I feel like Brandon got to the basket a couple times. Again, when we did get to the basket, we didn't finish. There were times we settled for perimeter jumpshots. We had opportunities. Even that, defensively, you've got to get stops. You've got to get stops. Westbrook was flying all over the place. Again, that last possession, we had two changes to grab the board, we've just got to commit to the defensive end of the floor, rebounding, we're the top rebounding, offensive rebounding, team in the league. We go offensively. We've got to go defensively to get those boards. We know how to do it, we just have to do it on the defensive end of the floor.

Post-game message to the players

I thought we beat ourselves tonight. We had opportunities tonight. You've got to execute and get stops defensively. Offensively, attack. Run your sets. Play from the inside out.

Rudy didn't play because of a back issue. His status?

Rudy was a game-time decision. This morning he was feeling OK and his back, he's been getting treatment on it, it tightened up. He couldn't go tonight. We'll see how he feels tomorrow.

Do you need to sign a center or do you hold on until Joel Przybilla gets back?

We have to look at that. We'll be looking at guys, seeing if we can bring somebody in. We certainly are looking at bringing somebody in.

Looking to get Nicolas Batum more involved? He has only 8 or 9 shots

And he has zero free throws. Get to the basket. We ran him on some pindowns, got some things off of that. He can get, all of those guys can get offense off of our sets. 

He needs to get more aggressive

Yeah. I think his jump shot has been good. But as you see our forwards shoot zero free throws. And we need those guys to be attacking.

How would you sum up today after losing two players for the season, Rudy for the game and the game itself?

Thank goodness it's over. We have to... we have been dealing with that. It's shocking some of the things that happened, but you have to move on, we know that situation, we've got to fill in a big to give us enough.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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