Now that, my friends, is how to win a game.
Long Story Short: The Blazers, sans Brandon Roy, survive a lackluster first half in which the Thunder smother LaMarcus Aldridge, force turnovers, score inside, and parade to the foul line to overpower Oklahoma City by smothering Kevin Durant, forcing turnovers, scoring inside, and parading to the foul line. Marcus Camby turns in one of the prime games of his career in the process.
The Oklahoma City game plan was evident in this game from the opening tip. Whatever LaMarcus Aldridge did, it wasn't going to be scoring and it sure wasn't going to be inside. With LaMarcus still getting his sea legs against the waves of Thunder defense the rest of the Blazers attempted to shoot their way into being defended. The success was mixed. Marcus Camby and Nicolas Batum hit jumpers early but Batum also missed a three and Andre Miller coughed up a bad pass trying to make something happen. The Thunder, meanwhile, pressed inside. After a couple of minutes and 4 points apiece Miller decided he'd had enough and started driving. With most of the Portland offense coming from 6 feet and in the Blazers surged to a 17-11 lead. Then the Thunder got rolling with drives along with a couple threes. Suddenly they were back and at the four minute mark of the period it was 20-18 Portland. Soon after the Portland 3rd unit came in (the second unit starting due to injuries) and the offense and defense pretty much collapsed. Portland couldn't score. They missed all their jumpers and got their drives swatted back. Portland couldn't keep their hands off of the guys they were defending. Plus ANY screen OKC set in the first half produced an open look or a late hack. Five free throws and a three-pointer later the Thunder led 28-22 to close the first.
Unsatisfied with being stymied at the end of the first, the Portland bench players opened the second period turning the ball over on top of everything else. Oklahoma City's lead got to 10 with 10:00 remaining before Andre Miller stopped the bleeding with a couple of layups and an extra foul shot, followed by another conventional three-point layup by Martell Webster. Alas, the Blazers got into the penalty early in the quarter. Behind a series of layups and fouls the Thunder again worked the lead to double-digits. Camby, Miller, and Webster caught offense as they could but the production was anemic. LaMarcus Aldridge, suffering from foul trouble, was nowhere to be found. The Blazers weren't getting good looks. Oklahoma City walked into the locker room up 8 after the first half, 51-43.
Whether Nate McMillan was a silver-tongued devil, somebody spiked the Gatorade, or Brandon Roy threatened to tear a new meniscus in everyone on the team, the Blazers came out for the second half a changed bunch. After an initial Aldridge miss from 5 feet Portland's offense came through a Batum layup, and assisted 20-footer for Camby, and assisted layup for Camby (this time from Aldridge), an assisted dunk for Batum, a 6-footer for Miller, a missed Batum layup attempt, a missed Rudy three, and finally a Camby put-back off of that missed three. That's a dozen points, only 2 scored beyond 5 feet. The score was tied at 55. The Blazers were roaring and the Thunder were all, "Milka-what?!?!?" Then it was on. Oklahoma City responded with a three-pointer from Durant and a conventional three-point drive from Westbrook. The Blazers responded back with a three-pointer from Rudy Fernandez and a conventional three-point layup from Camby. This was getting GOOD! Portland absolutely locked down on Kevin Durant after that, forcing him to give up the ball repeatedly. They got incredible defense in the period from Batum, Webster, Aldridge, Camby, and Fernandez, all contributing to the cause on one possession or another. It was an amazing team effort. The cost of the extra attention to Durant was considerable slippage on the weak side. This resulted in foul after foul as Portland players had to dive and swarm instead of playing their counterparts straight up. The Thunder went 8-11 from the foul line in the final 6:09 of the third, scoring only 2 points off of the stripe. The Blazers looked as if they might be tiring as they started lofting deep shots, most of which missed by a wide margin. The sole exception was LaMarcus Aldridge, who finally came alive a little, hitting a couple of nice deep moves, showing post strength. Jerryd Bayless redeemed a painful effort by rebounding an Eric Maynor miss with 4 seconds left in the period, running coast to coast, and converting a layup. That left Portland up 2 as the horn sounded. The stage was set for the epic conclusion.
Oklahoma City gave Portland some body blows coming out in the final period. Jeff Green and James Harden took advantage of the Durant Defense, scoring 13 points in the first 3:15 of the quarter. But Portland wasn't having it. LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby beasted up down low on the boards and on offense both. (More LMA post moves! Sweet!) Despite OKC's early lead the Blazers still led 85-84 with 6:50 left. Then came the knockout blow. Andre Miller started driving and drawing fouls on offense. Nicolas Batum soon followed suit. All of a sudden the Thunder realized they didn't have the legs to stay with them. Portland smelled blood and just kept hammering it inside. On the other end other than one Durant 10-footer the Thunder found themselves shooting jumper after jumper late in the clock. That was bad, but better than the alternative: turning the ball over. Once Portland sensed blood in the water on that end also the game became a rout. Busy hands, quick feet, two guys on Durant, poking, diving, pushing, dunking...the Blazers did it all. When the smoked cleared the Blazers led by 12. Portland looked like the veteran club. The Thunder looked like they didn't know what hit them. The Blazers did miss some free throws down the stretch to keep the door open a crack and OKC did manage 7 more points late but as it turned out that was just waving off the standing 8-count before the fight was stopped. 103-95, Blazers in a victory as honestly earned as any I can remember.
The differences in this game were few, yet significant. Portland shot 50% and the Thunder 46.9% but the Blazers got up 80 shots to OKC's 64, hitting 10 more field goals overall. This was mitigated at the arc, where Oklahoma City shot 7-18 to 3-15 for the Blazers, and at the foul line where OKC made 28 of 36 while the Blazers went 20 of 27. Even so, Portland's salvation tonight came precisely in not over-relying on the three. That free throw deficit looks bad but you have to consider that Portland was down by close to 20 attempts earlier in the game. Rebounds were exactly even across the board for both teams. However Portland got 20 assists to Oklahoma City's 11...testament to the Blazers being the better defensive team on this night. (Surprise!) The look concludes with two whoppers. Portland turned the ball over 6 times to OKC's 15, registering a 27-10 advantage in points off of turnovers. Portland also led 60-40 in points in the paint. That's 60 points out of 83 total scored from the field coming in the key. That...is...nice.
More than anything else the Blazers looked poised. When the pressure was on Portland started playing better. When the pressure was on the Thunder started playing worse. From the big-picture perspective that was the story of this game. The Oklahoma City TV announcers said something interesting as the two teams exited the court. They opined that the Blazers had just given the Thunder something to gun for and aspire to. When you consider how easily that could have been flipped around you understand the importance of this game, and not just from a seeding perspective. For once...maybe for the first time in the Roy/Aldridge era...the Blazers are the experienced team someone else is looking up to.
Marcus Camby. Whoa. Quick...which superstar registered 30 points and 13 rebounds tonight? If you said Kevin Durant you are right, at least about the points part. But the 30 and 13 belonged to Camby. 12-16 shooting, defense on any frontcourt player--including Durant--who came his way, energy, commitment, saving our bacon. This guy was EVERYTHING. It was one of the best-played games from a non-"star" player I've seen in years. The people at the Rose Garden should still be standing and applauding, hoping he'll come out for one more bow.
LaMarcus Aldridge only shot 13 times tonight, hitting 6. But he didn't fold or panic under the OKC defense devoted just to him. He took his time, got into the game, found the cracks, made nice moves, scored low, dished 4 assists, and ended up with 15 points and a whole lot of reasons to be thankful for his teammates. But if LaMarcus wasn't out there drawing attention the other guys couldn't have done what they did.
Andre Miller had a nice, nice game with the exception of a few defensive moments in the first half. He made up for those in the fourth quarter though. And besides that he only went 9-16 for 22 points with 7 assists and 4 rebounds. Russell Westbrook only managed 11 and 7 with 5 turnovers. Miller, as he often does, provided the slap in the face to his teammates and opponents both, waking up the former and stinging the latter with his bull-headed drives. When he's on his game he can be a momentum changer.
Nicolas Batum and Martell Webster did some more nice defensive work out there tonight. They are SO on a roll right now at that end of the court. Nic also ran the floor and finished, dished the ball, and generally made a pest of himself to the Thunder. 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists. Martell shot 3-6 for 9 points.
Rudy Fernandez only shot 2-6 but those were both threes for 6 points. He also had 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and played some of the best defense in the second half that I've seen him play. I liked watching Rudy out there tonight and it's been a while since I've felt that way. Bravo.
Juwan Howard and Dante Cunningham gave Aldridge and Camby rest in 24 combined minutes. Howard went 2-7...one of the few Blazers who had a sub-par night. He was also part of that disastrous run between the first and second quarters. Dante pitched in 2 rebounds in 5 minutes.
Jerryd Bayless hit that layup we mentioned earlier.
So now...after this glorious win the Blazers find themselves out of the 8th seed, finishing ahead of the Thunder no matter what happens in each team's final game. The Spurs also won tonight, setting up a race to the finish between those two teams for 6 and 7. Should the Spurs beat Dallas in their 82nd game while the Blazers lose to the Warriors then Portland will get the 7th seed. Any other outcome leaves Portland in 6th as the Blazers own every tiebreaker imaginable at this point. Portland's fate remains in its own hands, which is exactly how you want it. And games like tonight are EXACTLY how you want to win a playoff seed, even if it is only 6th (hopefully).
Well done. Incredibly well done.
Check out the reflections at WelcometoLoudCity.
Jersey Contest results: See your scores from this game here and enter the final game of the season here. You'll notice from that scoreboard that we have our first perfect 100 score ever in Jersey Contest history. Actually two people struck at once! They are 4ist and jr49ers81. As per the contest rules, each has won a jersey immediately. Congratulations!