In a Nutshell
Gerald Wallace plays like a man possessed while the rest of the Blazers struggle to keep up as Portland accordions its way through 0-8 point deficits before falling short in the final minutes of the fourth. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka once again kill the Blazers on a night when Kevin Durant looks average at best.
Mary Mills, a sharp-tongued will-wielding teacher of mathematics at Grant High School back in the day, used to tell her classes that she didn't get nearly as upset at the students who got 75% on her exams as she did at the students who got 92%. 75% means you didn't really know the material that well and honestly pulled a C. 92% meant that you knew it but you just got careless and lost points. You should have gotten 100%. Anything you used to explain that missing 8% was just an excuse.
The Blazers played about a 92% game tonight. It was enough to stay close but you have to give the Thunder credit. They knew what they were supposed to do and did it. They didn't settle for 92%. They gave a solid 97% through most of the game and 100% on both ends when it mattered most. The Thunder took this game. The Blazers probably could have had more say in where it went but they didn't.
Before the all-class lecture begins, Gerald Wallace? You're excused. Go to the cafeteria, grab a sandwich. Heck, take the day off. You knew what to do. You knew how to play. If your 40 points had been the smooth, peach-fuzz, "I'm an offensive wizard" variety you'd be staying here too. But you played like a man in every aspect of the game. You knew how to TAKE this away from the Thunder. You showed the definition of the word "unstoppable". Nobody wins around here unless the team wins, but the rest of these words would be hollow if applied to you. Hats off to you, standing ovation, see you tomorrow in San Antonio.
As for the rest of the Blazers...one wonders if they realize that if they could just rebound the ball, something they've done with verve more nights than not, they would have won this game. One also wonders if they know that fighting through a screen instead of looping way around it and making switches patently obvious might have snatched a victory. I know that switching is the Blazers' scheme but there are ways to do it and that was not it. Going back to the first half you might talk about stupid turnovers...passes to literally nobody where the only spacing on the floor was collective spacing out. Looking at the fourth period you can count all the times the Blazers tied the game but failed to make the killer shot to go ahead. When the Thunder made a shot Portland responded. When the Thunder missed the Blazers also missed, almost always on an ill-advised jumper...not the offense that brought them back to the tie. When the Thunder went 1 of 2 from the line the Blazers went 1 of 2. Playing just smart enough to get even and then putting up hope shots instead of putting your foot down is a really fancy way of losing in this league. These things weren't fatal in themselves. Collectively, though, they totaled that 8% in a game that could have been defining to the good and instead ended up defining a familiar pattern for Portland. The Blazers are going to beat the Thunder next Friday in Portland, guaranteed. But that's just the writ large version of the "good enough to tie, not determined enough to win" dance that defined this game. Even if Portland wins by 100 it won't make them look like the Thunder looked tonight in a game that resembled the playoffs as much as anything.
On the boards, in the lane, on defense, with your steely-eyed shots you have to man up or shut up in this league. Until they finally cement themselves as a great team that wins this kind of game or a lousy team that loses them decisively, the Blazers need to hush up, grow up, forget everything else, and learn how to win.
Remember in the college football championship game this year when the Oregon Ducks received the opening kickoff and promptly bobbled it and slipped on the turf, looking out of place under the lights? You knew tonight's game was going to be wobbly when Kevin Durant canned a knife-sharp three on the Thunder's opening possession and the Blazers responded with Andre Miller and Wesley Matthews running into each other while Miller was dribbling leading to a missed three late in the clock. Portland would follow this up with plenty of turnovers in the first period, including a couple of those astonishing passes to invisible teammates. Portland did buckle down on defense at the usual cost of leaving Serge Ibaka easy shots which he calmly canned. But Portland got some revenge behind Gerald Wallace and some fine cutting late in the period. The Blazers could have taken the period outright had they not fallen prey to OKC's offensive rebounding...another sure sign that the night wasn't heading in the right direction. The Thunder led 21-20 after one.
The defense and rebounding reached their nadir in the second quarter. Portland's rotations, never crisp in this game, were downright soggy in the early parts of the period. The Thunder continued to clean up on the boards, this time defensive. They'd snatch a missed jumper and push tempo, making the Blazers look slow down the court. Brandon Roy gave the Blazers some play by posting up Russell Westbrook and either scoring or passing. Gerald Wallace continued his strong attack. Those two things kept the Blazers in through mid-quarter. Then it all fell apart. The Thunder got clear on screens multiple times. The Blazers alternated between turning over the ball and shooting it long, which became a de facto turnover with OKC's rebounding going strong. Nicolas Batum made passes more obvious than the plot of a Paris Hilton movie. Wesley Matthews made drives more horrible than...the plot of a Paris Hilton movie. LaMarcus Aldridge rebounded with the same integrity as the plot of a P...OK, I'll stop now. The Thunder turned a 2-point lead at the 6:00 mark into a 14-point lead by the end of the quarter. OKC 55-41 at the half.
Nicolas Batum suffered a quad contusion during the second period and did not start the third, a fortunate turn of events for the Blazers. Marcus Camby took his place and between him, Aldridge, and Wallace Portland's interior defense and rebounding went through the roof. Easy drives for the Thunder ceased as did offensive rebounding. For the first time in the game Portland looked ready to rip it away from Oklahoma City. On offense Wallace was ripping something of Oklahoma City's and it looked downright painful for them. He drove past them like they were children. Then he started connecting on the jumper. Then he started drawing fouls. GW3 ended up with 15 in the period. When he hit a three with 1:09 remaining the Blazers were within 1. Then they forgot to play the last 60 seconds as Serge Ibaka converted an offensive rebound (ARRGH!) into 2 free throws and James Harden made a three following Portland's own three-point miss late in the shot clock. Despite the amazing first 11 minutes for the Blazers OKC still led 78-72 going into the fourth.
To their credit the Blazers didn't give up. That's where most of the good 92% came from. Portland continued attacking through Wallace and continued to force the Thunder into long jumpers. Kevin Durant in particular looked impotent, missing from 20 feet and beyond. The Blazers tied the game for the first time with 9:23 remaining in the period off of a Wallace banked jumper during which he was fouled by Durant. Converting the free throw made the score 79-79. For the next three minutes Portland played cat-and-mouse with the Thunder, letting OKC pull ahead by a bucket and then getting it back but at no time taking the lead. Then Russell Westbrook took advantage of Portland's SAS defensive scheme. For the uninitiated, that would be Stupid (synonym for donkey) Screens. The switching isn't bad with like-sized players. But when the Thunder run your 6'11" guys into a screen on purpose and your guard goes way around the pick and Westbrook hits threes...that's wrong. After a couple of Westbrook triples the point the lead was 8 with 4:00 left. Portland got it back within 2 with 1:47 remaining off of a Miller steal and a couple of Wallace buckets but Kendrick Perkins scored off of an (ARRGH!) offensive rebound. After a Portland timeout OKC blocked back-to-back attempts at the hoop by Wallace and Miller then Westbrook streaked for a layup and the game was all over except for the horn. The Thunder end up winning by 9, 99-90.
Pop your head back in the room for a second, Gerald Wallace. We want to praise your 40 points, 7 rebounds, and macho defense. Oh man, Portland made a smart move in picking you up.
LaMarcus Aldridge shot 8-17 for 20 points. He had 7 rebounds, 5 of those defensive, none of those defensive rebounds coming before halftime. Aldridge played well but not spectacularly and he was clearly the best of the rest of the Blazers tonight.
If anyone would push LMA for that title it would be Marcus Camby who stopped OKC's rebounding flow and ended up with 13 boards overall. Had the Blazers won he would have been tabbed as a major contributor.
Andre Miller at least knew to rebound, garnering 8 for the game. Thank heavens for that. He had 5 assists but shot only 4-13 for 9 points. He posted the Thunder point guards a little but also got burned by their quickness on the other end.
Wesley Matthews at least guarded Westbrook nicely for a possession or two in the fourth period. But outside of that he was a non-factor in this game, shooting 2-9 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. Matthews has a ton to recommend him but experience will hopefully show him how to produce with more than defense even in games when he's not the first or second option.
Nicolas Batum played but 21 minutes because of the injury but frankly he wasn't playing well at all even before the quad got busted. His best contribution was 2 blocked shots. Other than that he scored 6 points on 1-4 shooting and had 0 rebounds. Listen closely here: plus-minus is an awful, horrible, non-indicative stat unless you use it over the course of a large number of games, preferably 82. It means almost nothing almost all the time when used on a single-game basis because the number of variables involved are far too great on a given night. Only averaging them out over a season will yield a useful number. That's true 99.99% of the time so please...do what I say and not what I'm doing here because this is the other .01%. Batum played 21 minutes. His plus-minus was -23. That is overwhelming. And ouchy.
Brandon Roy played 13 minutes, largely on the ball at point, shot 2-3 for 4 points and 3 assists. It wasn't a great outing but he was putting pressure on the defense.
Rudy Fernandez had a steal, 2 assists, and hit 3 free throws for 3 points in 19 minutes.
Stats of the Night
- Oklahoma City 14 offensive rebounds. That's double what the Blazers give on a good night.
- Blazers 2-12 three-point shooting. At least they didn't keep taking them all night.
- Blazers commit only 10 turnovers, almost all given up in the first half.
- Russell Westbrook 28 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds. Same old story for the Blazers.
Odd Notes and Links
Brandon Roy left the game with back spasms after getting whacked by Kendrick Perkins. He's reportedly a game-time decision for tomorrow.
Welcome to Loud City has your OKC view.
Here's your Jersey Contest Scoreboard. Due to a scheduling snafu in the system there will be no form for tomorrow's game. The New Orleans form will be posted following the San Antonio contest to avoid confusion.