Portland Trail Blazers head coach Kaleb Canales calls for the Little Bunny Foo Foo set...probably a mistake as the Thunder scooped them up like field mice and bopped them on the head. Photo: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE
In a Nutshell
Russell Westbrook destroyed everybody the Blazers sent against him and the defensive breakdowns he caused left the floor open for everybody else. The Thunder handle the Blazers like a long-haul trucker handles a ham sandwich.
If these two teams were presidents the Thunder would have been Abraham Lincoln in the first period, playing against Portland's Dan Quayle. Oklahoma City brought more talent, had instant mismatches, and exploited both on each end of the floor. Russell Westbrook began his game-long trend of dominating poor fools. The Thunder scored off of his play again and again, moving the ball anywhere they wanted. OKC had five dunks in the first period alone, multiple in the halfcourt. Zone, man-to-man, help or not...it made no difference. Oklahoma City scored in transition as well off of their superior defense. Portland had no playmakers, no ball-handlers, and no chance unless LaMarcus Aldridge touched the ball. OKC defended hard every time he did, leaving Portland no option but to huck three-pointers. For a good portion of the period the Blazers had no functional plays at all, just triples shot through cracks in the Thunder "D"-fence. They missed. Oh, and the Thunder also rebounded better than the Blazers. Sheesh. The score was 32-18 OKC after one.
Portland's bench fared well against Oklahoma City's in several stretches during this game. Portland rode some hot bench scoring to 29 points in the second period. Unfortunately their defense allowed 33, including several off of offensive rebounds. At least the Blazers stopped shooting from distance. 65-47 Oklahoma City at the half. It looked like the rout was on.
That rout was interrupted in the third period as the Blazers finally showed some muscle, energy, a little defense, and speed. Portland forced Oklahoma City turnovers which they translated into quick offense...the only kind of offense that was going to work against that buzzsaw "D". Jonny Flynn helped the Blazers push the tempo. Portland's bigs corrected the rebounding problem temporarily. The Blazers had the game within 5 when Wesley Matthews hit a shocking lightning three with 4:43 left. Then Russell Westbrook snuffed them out. He turned the last four minutes of the third and the entire fourth period into his personal playground. Neither Kobe Bryant nor LeBron James have looked more dominant. Portland never closed again. Thunder win 109-95.
Those clamoring for the reserve quarterba...uhhhh...point guards to get more playing time can cue the sad horn now: wah-wah-waaaaaaaaahhhhhhh. The problems on offense were evident from the tip. The Blazers have been disguising Nolan Smith all season by having him dribble the ball up the floor, bail out to the shooting guard, and then drift to the weak side. That works in limited bench minutes. As a starter, not so much. Reading above "the Blazers had no plays in the first period"...that's no accident. Jonny Flynn had some better stretches but he was like Fat Albert at the marathon. Guy can run a little, but he ain't gonna finish. Of the two Flynn showed more ability to helm the team, but that's not surprising. Either way you go though, remember this: Jamal Crawford is literally the only other player on this team who can dribble in anything but a straight line (and Crawford mostly dribbles to get his own). That means the point guard is the only guy who can make and set plays for this team. With Flynn and Smith the entire offense is on their shoulders when they're in there. Neither one is up to that. That's why they're not in there.
This isn't even talking about defense. You really don't want to look at that. Part of it was Russell Westbrook's talent, but this wasn't just ordinary Russell Westbrook. He was playing as if nobody was on him tonight. For all intents and purposes, nobody was. That destroyed any hope the Blazers had.
None of this is the fault of Smith or Flynn. It's not an indictment of them as players. Neither one should be in this position. And again, that's exactly why they're not even though the alternative is not really palatable to Blazer fans.
LaMarcus Aldridge had about the best game he could: 9-16, 20 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, a block, and only 2 turnovers. The lack of turnovers was a miracle considering the offense consisted of throwing him the ball and saying, "Bye, LaMarcus! Have fun trying to score against three people! Don't get blocked now!" But fighting that kind of attention and having to expend energy constantly he could only keep himself afloat. There was no room for the team to ride with him.
Nicolas Batum had one short stretch of activity but otherwise spend most of the game getting schooled by Kevin Durant. 4-11, 13 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 block.
Joel Przybilla just couldn't keep up in this game. He played 15 minutes, went 0-3 including a nasty rim-check then shot-swatted combo on the same play, and acquired 4 rebounds and 2 personal fouls.
Wesley Matthews had a couple of shining offensive moments and played big during the third-quarter rally. His defense was little help tonight though, contributing to the breakdown instead of forestalling it. 5-13, 2-4 from distance, 5-5 from the free throw line (he drove more than usual), 17 points, 4 steals, 3 rebounds. Some will look at the 4 steals and say that my defensive assertion was wrong but that fourth quarter especially says otherwise.
Nolan Smith in his first start: 26 minutes, 1-9 shooting, 3 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 turnover.
Jonny Flynn in his first major minutes for this team: 25 minutes, 3-6 shooting, 10 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 turnover.
The Blazers should have posted warning signs for pregnant and nursing mothers about watching Jamal Crawford play tonight. 20 minutes, 1-7 shooting, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 turnovers. The Blazers needed a big contribution from him in so many ways: scoring, ball-handling, relieving the point guards. Didn't happen.
Kurt Thomas looked overwhelmed tonight too, in no mood to fight. It's hard to think that he's not just playing out the string now. 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 block, 2 turnovers, 2 personal fouls in 11 minutes.
The good news off the bench? J.J. Hickson led that second unit away from three-pointers and straight into scoring inside. He went 9-10 for the game, 21 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and a block in 26 minutes. This guy was fighting harder than anyone else. Maybe he has something to prove, maybe he's just a really good teammate. Either way, it was nice to see...the only really nice story to come out of this game from Portland's perspective.
Hey Mama Babbitt, your boy hit 2-2 three pointers tonight for 6 points and 2 rebounds in 13 minutes. One thing you have to love about Luke, he always tries the same kind of "hard" every game. You wouldn't know the opponent nor the score by the effort he puts into it. High marks for that.
Hasheem Thabeet got 3 minutes and a rebound. He's big. He's pretty quick up and down the floor for a guy his size too. His weaknesses show up when he actually gets to either end.
Fun With Numbers
- Blazers shoot a respectable 43% from the field--a seeming impossibility in that first period--but once again the defense gives up way too much, OKC shooting 57% on the evening.
- Portland attempted 6 three-pointers in that first period and had 10 before the second period got old. They ended up with 16 attempts for the game, which was a nice adjustment as the three-point offense wasn't working. They hit 7 of those 16 for 44%.
- Blazers allow 50 points in the paint, scoring 36 themselves.
- The Thunder only put 3 players in double-figures but they were Westbrook with 32, Durant with 25, and Harden with 21. Those are the three that hurt.
- At least Portland kept turnovers low with 12. Good job there, especially given the circumstances.
This was a tough matchup anyway, so the loss isn't unexpected. The game could have been better but the Blazers did a nice job recovering from total chaos early to at least look...functional. It could have been worse against that crushing Thunder defense.
Welcome to Loud City will talk about the win.