The Portland Trail Blazers put up a good fight against the Oklahoma City Thunder for one half tonight...so good, in fact, that the Blazers led by 2 heading into halftime. But a combination of physical fatigue, mental fatigue, and good-old Thunder basketball destroyed Portland's hopes in the second half, leading to a 20-point blowout loss. Unlike many Portland games this season, the score made this game seem more dire than it really was. We've seen far worse efforts from the Blazers lead to far better results.
Before we go any farther, we should credit Oklahoma City's defense for making life tough on the Blazers. From the get-go the Thunder made Portland's easy shots look hard and their hard shots look impossible. When a team sports the league's leading scorer, one of the very best scoring point guards in the league, and an offense heralded as one of the 2-3 best, it'd be awfully easy to cruise on point production. That's not good enough for Oklahoma City. Their defense was masterful tonight, the single biggest reason Portland's burgeoning threat came to naught.
Despite that, the Blazers did a good job scoring inside during the first period. Portland traded nifty passes and drives with the Thunder, staying all but even until the close of the period. A few ill-advised cross-court passes morphed into turnovers and run-outs for OKC as the clock wound down, providing a 24-19 lead for Oklahoma City after one.
The second period was Portland's best of the evening, spearheaded by an amazing performance from Nicolas Batum. Batum keyed a strong stretch of defense, bothering everyone who came near him up to and including Kevin Durant. Batum also drove to the hoop, converted jumpers, passed with aplomb, rebounded...it was pure, uncut Batum and watching it was addictive. Hopping on Batum's back the Blazers scored 28 to OKC's 21 and led by 2 going into the break.
A combination of nice Oklahoma City defense and (one assumes) dead legs made the Blazers fall in love with the jumper as the third period commenced. Once in the seductive embrace of the 20-footer, the Blazers could never disentangle themselves. It proved a fatal attraction. The third period followed the pattern of the first, with Portland hanging close until the final minutes in which Oklahoma City converted turnovers and long misses into a hefty run. That run became a full-on flood in the fourth. Ugly jumpers led to more OKC breaks. Made jumpers encouraged the Blazers to take more ugly jumpers. Moving farther out on the court was Portland's only response to the Thunder defense. 20-footers became three-point attempts. Three-point attempts became long three-point attempts. That wasn't going to work. The Thunder poured in points off the break, in the lane, at the line, while Portland's artillery continued to misfire. The game ended with Oklahoma City streaking away, Portland surrendering and heading for home with a serviceable 2-3 road trip.
Portland shot an anemic 40.5% from the field, barely more than their 38.5% clip from the three-point arc. 26 of their 79 shot attempts--1 in 3 shots--came from beyond that arc. Portland scored only 9 points on the break to OKC's 20, 30 points in the paint to OKC's 48. The Blazers had 7 offensive rebounds and committed 17 turnovers. The Thunder committed 10 turnovers but Portland scored only 2 points off of them. The Blazers would have needed to shoot 60% from distance to turn those numbers into a win...and maybe not even then.
LaMarcus Aldridge's jumper once again deserted him at an inopportune time, this time costing the Blazers dearly. Aldridge shot 3-14 for 10 points. With LMA out of commission, the Blazers had nothing inside. Nada. Aldridge did have 12 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks.
Damian Lillard was one of the few Blazers performing to expectations tonight, scoring 19 with 6 assists. It still makes me laugh when he fires a quick step-back three through the net and the opposing crowd goes, "OHHHHHH" like they just got the world's most amazing headache.
Nicolas Batum had 13 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds, making a huge difference tonight.
Wesley Matthews didn't help the Blazers' perimeter woes shooting 3-11 for 8 points. As we said, the defense was tough.
J.J. Hickson couldn't get many attempts up but he hit the ones he took, shooting 6-11 for 12 points and 7 rebounds. His energy was high early on, standing out from the crowd. I'm not sure anybody in Portland's uniform had energy by game's end.
Meyers Leonard had a really good offensive game, not just shooting 4-4 for 9 points but making himself available to receive passes and even dishing out a couple in return. It's not going to take much to turn Leonard's early-career enthusiasm into some legitimately dangerous confidence on that end.
Eric Maynor had a yes-and-no night. He hit a couple of threes, made a couple of nice drives, tried to stick it to Russell Westbrook and his old team a little. At times he tried too hard, leading to those "oh no" moments. Westbrook excelled anyway. Maynor missed more shots than he made.
The last long road trip of the year has finally come to an end. After starting 0-2, a 2-3 record is more than acceptable. The home schedule gets no easier, with Brooklyn and Utah on the horizon, but most of the miles and crippling back-to-backs are done. The Blazers can breathe a sigh of relief and try to take it home in the last dozen games of the season.
Welcome to Loud City gives you the Oklahoma City view of this game.