Game 54 Recap: Blazers 77, Thunder 89

Yuckatooie.

Long Story Short:  In a game where the Blazers did enough things right to win in the larger sense they sabotage themselves with turnovers and jump shots, falling to a fourth-quarter barrage by the hungry Thunder.

The Game

The first quarter proved a painful harbinger of things to come as the Blazers settled for jumper after jumper on offense.  Nicolas Batum and Dante Cunningham broke the mold a little but for the most part the Blazers were on the perimeter, scrambling to salvage decent shots out of mediocre possessions.  The period also provided some atrocious passing by the Blazers, steals which the Thunder tried to run out on. They weren't horrible successful in that, but just wait...  Meanwhile on the other end of the floor Portland couldn't stop Durant from hitting jumpers early in the period and couldn't stop OKC from getting inside at will later.  While the Blazers were shooting from 18 feet the Thunder were converting layups, dunks, and free throws.  Portland scored only 17 points in the quarter and were lucky that a couple of Oklahoma City flubs limited them to 23.

The Blazers still gave up some easy possessions in the second period but in general they kept the Thunder farther out on the court.  On the other end the Blazers finally started getting inside.  They scored but one shot off of longer jumpers in the period.  Everything else was a layup, dunk, or free throws.  This was the quarter when they made it all back.  They would have done even better but for more turnovers, both OKC steals and offensive fouls.  Still Portland outscored the Thunder by 6 and it was tied at 41 entering the half.

Having scored only 3 points in the second quarter Kevin Durant came alive in the third, netting 12 total in the period.  The problem for the Thunder was that nobody else came along for the ride.  Still living off of the perimeter shots Durant's teammates scored a combined 6 points.  It was just what the doctor ordered:  Durant scoring but getting no help, Oklahoma City on the way to 80 points instead of 100.  This was the period for the Blazers to streak ahead.  The problem was, they couldn't do it.  The first 1/3 of the period was a comedy of errors for Portland on offense.  The game might as well have been "You make it, you take it" because the Blazers were letting OKC shoot then handing them the ball right back.  Portland attempted 2 shots in the first four minutes of the quarter.  Not made 2 shots...attempted 2 shots.  If both of them were threes and both fell that would translate to an 18-point quarter.  They weren't and they didn't.  Fortunately the Blazers resumed their rim-attacking ways for a brief stretch at the 7-minute mark, scoring 10 points in the next 2:30.  With the Thunder still struggling to score it looked like Portland's chance to pull ahead and take over the game.  But Oklahoma City called a timeout, re-committed to defense, and then Portland acquiesced.  The remaining shots in the period were:  3-pointer, 3-pointer, 21-footer, 19-footer, 16-footer, 3-pointer, 19-footer, 15-footer, 3-pointer.  Only three shots fell, none of them threes.  When the horn blew the Blazers had taken advantage of OKC's offensive slump by gaining exactly 2 points on them.  The period went 20-18 in Portland's favor.

But maybe that would be enough.  But maybe the Blazers would put on a brilliant surge to finish the game.  But maybe the home court and home crowd would provide the energy to gut the team through an ugly win.

James Harden spits on your "but maybes".

That's right, I said James Harden.  And that's not code-speak for Kevin Durant either.  Dude mowed over the Blazers, scoring 13 points in 4.5 minutes.  It's not like Portland lacked success during that stretch.  Jerryd Bayless made a layup.  That's pretty good.  What did the Blazers do besides that, you ask?  Here you go:

  • Missed three
  • Shot blocked
  • Bayless converts layup
  • Missed 20-footer
  • Turnover
  • Turnover
  • Turnover
  • Shot blocked
  • Missed three
  • Turnover
  • Shot clock violation
  • Shot blocked
  • Missed three

In gyms all over the city of Portland tomorrow kids are going to take their sneakers off of their feet, place them on their hands, and play ball while yelling, "Look!  I'm a Blazer!"  Babies cried as mothers tried in vain to shield their eyes.  The halfcourt logo curled up on itself in shame like a Shrinky Dink.  And Sarah Palin granted special dispensation for the use of the "r-word" just this once.

Andre Miller finally hit a few shots to bring the Blazers back within 5 with 4 minutes left.  But when you spot the Thunder five points with that much time remaining, what are they going to do, children?  Did you say, "Give it to Kevin Durant!!!"?  Of course you did.  Durant made like James Harden and torched the nets down the stretch.  After a 30-16 advantage in the fourth quarter OKC walks out of the Rose Garden with the 89-77 victory.

The real killer here is not that the Blazers lost, nor that they lost by a dozen at home.  The glaring annoyance is that Portland couldn't get out of its own way long enough to get the win in a game where several things went right.  Yes, Durant scored 33 but he took 25 shots doing it and had to stretch late to make that total.  It's not like the Blazers had him contained but he wasn't destroying them outright.  Portland kept Russell Westbrook to 8 points and 7 assists...hardly fatal numbers.  Harden went crazy for 13 in that spurt and Jeff Green scored 17 but those aren't dominating totals.  In fact the Blazers held the Thunder under 90...a recipe for success, especially at home.  But Portland committed 22 turnovers, shot 40% overall, 3-20 from distance, and spent so much time passing fruitlessly for perimeter looks that they took 14 foul shots to OKC's 28.  Portland couldn't summon enough offense to beat a team that was having offensive woes of its own.  LaMarcus Aldridge (5-10) and Andre Miller (9-18) shot 50% each.  That was balanced by Steve Blake going 0-5 for a goose egg, Rudy Fernandez going 0-6 for a goose egg, Martell Webster going 1-4 for 3 points to narrowly escape completing the omelet, and Jerryd Bayless going 2-7 for 5 points.  The Blazers probably can't live with production like that from any of those guys, let alone all of them together.  Oklahoma City's defense is better this year but it ain't 77 points worth of better.

Hustle and energy were both factors in this game, which is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of all.  The Blazers held the Thunder to 30 points in the paint but they gave up 20 fast break points, many off of those turnovers.  Oklahoma City was first to most of the loose balls.  Their offense had pep while Portland's looked staid.  The Thunder had a sub-par game but made up for it with energy.  Portland had a sub-par game, period.

What It Means

How much of a long-term effect will this outing have?  What does it show?

If you're a Thunder fan thinking this win gives you momentum and confirms your place in the division and conference standings, showing you're a legit threat for the playoffs...you're right.  I'll give you that.  Oklahoma City showed they knew what they were doing tonight and they showed they wanted past Portland and intended to stay there.  Road wins like this can be important in a playoff fight, if nothing else for the sake of confidence.  I believe this win gives the Thunder a lift and gives them more of an edge this season.

If anyone is thinking that the Thunder have passed the Blazers on the upward rise, I'd call a halt to that...at least I wouldn't say it without more evidence, of which this game provides very little.  Give me Brandon Roy even for just the last four minutes of this game--keep him out the rest of the time and keep all of the other Blazers who are injured too--and the outcome has a chance of being different.  Oklahoma City had a bankable star tonight.  The Blazers didn't.  That was the difference.  But that's not always going to remain true.

If anyone is thinking nights like this spur a budding Thunder-Blazers rivalry even more, I think you're right.

As far as Portland goes, as I've mentioned several times and am about to mention again in the Phoenix preview, this feels like a weary team who has headed to the All-Star break a week early.  It happens.  It might even be semi-excusable in this situation.  That doesn't mean I'm happy about it, but as they say, "It is what it is."  (That there is one dumb saying.  But it is what it is.  Oh snap.  That's what she said.  Oh no you didn't.  Talk to the hand.  You need counseling!")   That's not to say this loss was wholly situational.  We saw some things tonight that have been chronic issues: silly jump shooting, interior defense, low-low scoring nights from key-key players.  Portland cannot life with 0-fers or even 2-fers from solid rotation players.  They just don't have the oomph at the top of the lineup right now to make that OK.  Certainly you look at names like Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster and expect a few points...low double-digits at least.  18's and 20's don't help much if they're followed by singletons.  And those two players aren't alone.  Potential the Blazers may have, but it's pretty obvious that the potential isn't ready for prime time unless covered by some pretty good players on both ends.  In games like this the lineup isn't getting beaten as much as exposed.  You need a Roy or Oden, even a Przybilla or Outlaw, to help cover the middle-rotation players and take the pressure off of them.

With 28 games remaining and the Western Conference race tight every loss hurts.  Every home loss hurts worse.  Home losses to division rivals who are neck and neck in the standings in a total traffic jam for the lower playoff seeds really, really hurt.  The L.A. loss was painful, but if losing to the L*kers was a crime the whole league would be in jail.  You have to concede some of those losses if you're a team like Portland.  But these games are winnable with a lot of fight and some decent execution.  When you don't get either...ouchy time.

There's no need to get depressed if you're a Portland fan.  There are still plenty of games left.  Brandon Roy should be back soon, knock on wood.  His addition alone makes us a different team.  The playoffs are still a firm and realistic target.  But I wouldn't expect a win tomorrow unless a miracle is in the offing, which means being prepared to go into the break in semi-sad fashion.  The upside?  The team needs the rest badly...mentally and physically both.  It's just too bad the All-Star game wasn't a week earlier.

Boxscore

Check out the celebration and chest-thumping at WelcometoLoudCity.

The only thing lower than Portland's offensive production tonight may have been the Jersey Contest scores.  Don't worry, I was expecting a win too and wouldn't have fared any better.  You can check them out  here.  Enter tomorrow's form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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