Game 5 Recap: Portland Trail Blazers 103, Oklahoma City Thunder 93

In a Nutshell

The Trail Blazers finally focus on getting the ball inside early in the game to stay close to the Thunder, then fire up the pressure defense in the second half to pull away on a night when Durant and teammates stack up bricks like a mason on speed.

Game Flow

If you just looked at the shooting percentages you'd have guessed the Blazers got blown out of the water in the first quarter of this game. The Thunder were hanging around 70%, Portland closer to 30%. Yes, Oklahoma City was making mincemeat of Portland's defense and yes, the Blazers were missing shot after tortuous shot. But those percentages don't show the Blazers' constant trips to the foul line, courtesy of a sustained effort to work the ball inside to big men. LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace, and Marcus Camby all made good from the stripe repeatedly in the quarter against a surprised-looking Thunder defense. Portland's guards restrained their itchy shooting fingers for once, feeding the ball to large guys in the paint. The result was a 26-21 lead for OKC after one...not great but not the disaster the shooting numbers portended. The Blazers didn't dodge a bullet as much as take a couple in the midst of giving the Thunder a solid punch to the bread basket.

Portland's bench made good in the first part of the second quarter behind made jumpers from Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford. Oklahoma City alternated between transition buckets and three-pointers, still running warm. But Portland's perimeter success stretched the defense far enough to open lanes for LaMarcus Aldridge who immediately began reprising his 2010-11 habit of darting to the bucket to receive a pass, either in the deep post for an easy spin shot or mid-flight for an even easier dunk. As long as the Blazers weren't turning over the ball they were converting easily. Portland did turn it over enough to keep the Thunder in business with their own easy shots. None of those shots were credited to Kevin Durant, however, who seemed content to loft missed jumpers from the perimeter. A Durant-less Thunder offense isn't that scary even when the ball finds net. The Blazers narrowed the gap to 51-53 at intermission.

The third period began with Gerald Wallace and Wes Matthews converting four points apiece. Durant, meanwhile, missed 3 more three-point attempts. When the Blazers went ahead at the 9:15 mark of the period something weird seemed to happen to the Thunder. Outside of possessions where they worked inside and drew fouls (fairly rare in the overall scheme of things) their offense took about as much effort as your average "What I Did During Summer Break" essay. Seriously, it was like they looked up "offense" on Wikipedia and just went with the first bullet point, which apparently said "shoot long". Not just Durant, but everybody in white started bombing and missing. Portland began to feast on predictable passes and gamble by throwing extra men at drivers, knowing they need only fear more jumpers in response. OKC turned over the ball or gave up long rebounds on misses. Both allowed Portland to run. The Thunder didn't get back. If you're guessing this went well for Portland, you are correct. The more the lead grew the more the Thunder tried to recoup from the three-point arc. Portland led 78-74 after three. The Thunder made a brief surge at the beginning of the fourth behind a 20-footer and a layup and-one but they couldn't keep their fingers out of the three-point cookie jar. With the lead ballooning to 7+ and the Thunder showing no inclination to stop it the Blazers were free to go for the jugular. They ran a mobile, rangy, risk-taking unit including Aldridge, Wallace, and Nicolas Batum playing together. Batum single-handedly destroyed the Thunder when they tried to get inside...in part because they never attempted with Durant who still looked happy to brick long balls. OKC couldn't rebound random jumper misses and Portland was off to the races again and again, whipping the ball around a Thunder defense that spent more time recovering than setting up. The next thing you know the lead was 7 with a minute left and the Thunder were forced to foul to earn clock. The Blazers sank their free throws and there you go...a 103-93 victory courtesy of LaMarcus Aldridge finally getting inside, his teammates finally finding him, some opportunistic defense and running, and the Thunder running the stupidest offensive game plan known to man.

Take-Away Points

  • For better or worse, these Blazers aren't young kids anymore. There are things to mourn about that but one of the nice upsides is that if you hand them an opening, they're experienced enough to take it. In years past you might well have seen Portland match OKC's game jumper for jumper. Heck...you might still have seen that with the right group of guards in there from the current team. But tonight the Blazers played smart, running good offense that took advantage of, instead of copying, the bad offense of the opponent.
  • However the Blazers get Aldridge inside, they need to do it. You saw what an enormous difference it made tonight. The Blazers were decent but on their way to a polite loss before Aldridge started dunking. Just a couple rim-rattlers loosened everything up including the outside game.
  • The Blazers succeeded when they rebounded well and played a faster tempo. The turnover stats don't quite tell the story in this one. Portland was turning the ball over something fierce early and got behind. Though they didn't force wheelbarrows full of turnovers late those long OKC misses counted as de facto TO's, allowing Portland to grab and run. In other words, Portland re-discovered the recipe for success after that debacle in L.A.
  • I'm not sure what the heck is wrong with Durant but he always seems to do this against the Blazers. He gets completely lazy, settling for long jumpers over and over. It's not like he tried to get inside and got stymied. He was actually successful the few times his feet touched paint. I don't know if he's so brilliant that he considers a long jumper as easy as a layup but if so, he needs to get dumber real quick. Dude was 8-26 on the night, 1-7 from distance, and only attempted 4 foul shots. As those free throw attempts indicate, that's not as much Portland's defense as him utterly failing to test Portland's defense. Whatever he's thinking, I'm sure the Blazers are glad that's his mindset.

Individual Performances

LaMarcus Aldridge was brilliant tonight, shooting 10-19 from the field and an incredible (for volume, if nothing else) 10-12 from the foul line. It's like he was the offensive player Durant was supposed to be. Like everybody else in the frontcourt Aldridge took his turns guarding Durant and did well. He also played center late in the game without Portland suffering rebounding or defensive issues. Most of all he got inside and his teammates found him. Brilliant. Please repeat often.

Gerald Wallace didn't go off, shooting 4-14 for 13 points. He had 10 rebounds and defended Durant in single coverage on multiple possessions. GW did what was needed, as usual.

Marcus Camby played but 18 minutes in this faster-paced, no-opposing-inside-threat game. He had 5 rebounds and 3 assists, including the first pass that got Aldridge a halfcourt dunk. Nice to see the high-low back.

Wesley Matthews' offense was targeted instead of widespread tonight, exactly as it should be. He took a compact 12 shots and converted 7 for 16 points. He also added 6 rebounds and 2 assists. His stat of the night was 4 steals though. When Matthews filled up multiple stat columns last year the Blazers usually won. Food for thought.

Raymond Felton made up for a horrible first half with a hard-driving, nice-passing second. He went 4-11 for 12 points but added 7 assists and 4 rebounds. The eyesore in the opening quarters included not being able to dribble the ball, hit a shot, finish a drive, or defend Russell Westbrook in any way. In the second half he blended in more and set up Aldridge first, basing his offense on that if his own move wasn't obvious.

Jamal Crawford has been here 5 games and he's not pretending anymore. He's gonna shoot when he gets the ball. He went 2-6 tonight for 8 points in 21 minutes. Like Felton he calmed down in the final period and worked the plays he was given instead of trying to manufacture everything himself from whole cloth.

Aldridge deserves the game ball tonight but Nicolas Batum should at least be allowed to touch it and maybe get visitation every other Friday. His 24 minutes featured 4-8 shooting, 3 of 4 three-pointers made, 12 points, 7(!) rebounds, 2 blocks, and leaving a nasty rash on the backsides of the Thunder from sick, sick defense.

(For you math geeks out there, that exclamation point was an indication of surprise and wonder. Nic did not have 7 factorial rebounds. That would pretty much be a league record.)

Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith played well in 14 and 12 minutes respectively.

Fun-Filled Stats

  • Blazers only 9 turnovers tonight.
  • Thunder 5-20 from the arc for 25%. Portland 6-15 for 40%. Do more with less!
  • Blazers 36 foul shots attempted, OKC only 21. The Simpsons need to form a conga line and chant, "You don't get fouled on jum-PERS!", parading it through Oklahoma City. Oh, and Portland shot 81% from the charity stripe, canning 29 of those 36 attempts.
  • OKC did get 24 fast break points to Portland's 10 but that was a matter of semantics more than statistics. The Thunder were able to run straight out, especially when the game was young. The Blazers got faster in the closing quarters, scoring before the Thunder got back, but those weren't technically counted as fast break points. The Blazers ended up running OKC ragged no matter what the numbers say.

Final Thoughts

Pasting a loss on the division favorites at their own place is a nice accomplishment no matter how early in the season it is. You never know how that could affect things down the road.

Hear the wailing at WelcometoLoudCity. It's likely the wailing is the only thing that's loud tonight, save perhaps blaming this on refs. Just guessing on that though. You'll have to see for yourselves.

Trail Blazers vs Thunder boxscore

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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