You have to give credit to the Portland Trail Blazers tonight even though they fell short in a 105-97 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Portland sounded their barbaric YAWP, echoing their intention to challenge the Thunder over the rooftops of the world. And for 42 minutes or so they actually did it. But in the end Kevin Durant YAWPed louder and the Blazers had to content themselves with a more-than-passable 2-2 conclusion to a tough, four-game road trip.
This game opened much as the Houston contest did last night, with Portland's opponent probing the lane, looking to take advantage of the defensive weaknesses of the Blazers. But Portland stepped up early, shutting down drives and securing rebounds. "Defensive weaknesses? I don't see any here. Robin, you see any? Robin doesn't see any either. Maybe you should check with some other team." This forced the Thunder into jumpers. They're proficient enough with the face-up shot but nobody hangs with the Blazers from the outside, especially since the Blazers themselves weren't staying out there. Like rude guests they knocked on the door with Robin Lopez then when the Thunder came running to see who it was, Portland whipped the ball to an open shooter before they could answer. LaMarcus Aldridge came out determined to make his mark in this game, punishing the Thunder from the left block, perhaps trying to make up for his shaky offensive performance last night. Between Aldridge, Lopez, and the shooters Portland built an 11-2 lead.
That's when Kevin Durant said, "Enough is enough" and started taking the ball inside. Short shots and foul shots gave him 15 points in the quarter, pulling his team back to respectability. In the meantime the Blazers kept on chugging with the outside-in game and Portland led 27-21 after one.
Thanks to the outside shooting of Wesley Matthews and plenty of creative points from Mo Williams, Portland's reserve rotation didn't look too shabby tonight. Their main problem was no answer for OKC's Steven Adams. He wasn't playing dominantly or executing perfectly, but he did have the advantage of being 7' tall and a center running against a lineup where the Blazers fielded neither. Adams started the Thunder on a nice run of rebounding. That seems subtle but if you've read these recaps this year you'll remember that when the opponent takes away the glass from the Blazers, the Blazers start to falter. Powerful rebounding and decent defense held the Thunder in good stead as they held Portland to 25 in the period while scoring 30 themselves. This would be the only quarter of the night in which Durant was not driving OKC's offense. They found their opportunities from offensive rebounds and drives, making the most of it. The Blazers led by 1, 52-51, at the half.
The third period started much as the first had for the Blazers with Kendrick Perkins and the Thunder doing everything they could to shove Aldridge out of his comfort zone on the block and Aldridge hitting shots right in their faces anyway. Matthews continued to hit as well. Between them LMA and Wes provided a platform from which the Blazers gradually regained control of the boards and the game. Aldridge and Lopez started getting really nasty on the glass, the Thunder tried to cobble together offense but couldn't get a run going or any second chances...life was good for Portland. The Blazers led 75-66 with 2 minutes remaining in the third. Then Derek Fisher hit a three-pointer followed by Durant running off 2 more plus 2 foul shots for 8 points in the last minute of the quarter..."Enough is Enough 2: Electric Boogaloo". The Thunder led by 2, 77-75, heading into the fourth.
played fought hard in the fourth. Matthews and C.J. McCollum made sure Portland's second wave of reserve minutes wouldn't go as limp as the first had. They left no shots for OKC to rebound, scoring 10 points between them in the first 3:15 of the period. But Jeremy Lamb and Derek Fisher answered in kind for the Thunder, draining jumpers of their own. The middle minutes of the quarter were a dead zone as both teams started to miss. The game got stilted and the bulk of the scoring came from the foul line. The Blazers got the better of that (slightly) and ended up with a 95-90 lead with 3:45 left.
That's when Kevin Durant yelled, "Action!", hit the movie clapper, and started filming "Enough is Enough 3: A Good Day to Enough Harder with a Vengeance". In the final 3:30 of the game Durant hit a layup and a three-pointer, gave way to Reggie Jackson for a layup and an assist, then took over again with a pair of triples to seal the game. If you're counting, that's 11 Durant points in less than 4 minutes of play, bringing his final total for the game to 46, mostly scored in Thunderous flurries to smack the Blazers back down into the hole they had just crawled out of. It was a magnificent performance and one that was no doubt intended to send a message as to who the best team in the West really is. That matter will remain open for the next few months but there's no doubt that Durant wasn't letting his squad come in second tonight.
As Durant was raining threes the Blazers were holding the ball, turning it over, missing semi-contested jumpers that had been falling earlier, and getting all their drives swatted away. On a single trip down the floor for the Blazers Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins blocked Aldridge, Matthews, and Damian Lillard inside, in that order, consecutively. Even with Durant's heroics, OKC turning up the defensive pressure and the Blazers succumbing proved the tipping point of the game. We've seldom seen the Blazers looking overwhelmed on the offensive end, but that's how this game closed. When the smoke cleared Portland had converted only 1 field goal in the final 6:25 of the game, that a charity layup for Lillard with 20 seconds left and the Blazers down 10. They had to make do with 4 Aldridge foul shots, a total eclipsed by any 2 Durant makes in the same span. No matter what the Blazers did they weren't going to overcome that.
For the second straight night the Blazers won the points in the paint battle, albeit in meager 38-36 fashion. Even so, they weren't ceding massive scoring strikes to the Thunder in the lane. Nor were paint points disguised as free throws. The Blazers shot 10-16, the Thunder 11-17, from the stripe. The Blazers likely got as many calls outside the lane on jumpers or initial dribbles as the Thunder did in the lane with finishes. But for the second straight night the Blazers also fell short of their opponent beyond the arc, hitting 7-19 while OKC went 10-15 from distance. Part of the Oklahoma City total was unstoppable Durant mojo. That'll happen. But the Blazers missed shots from distance they usually hit and didn't do a great job closing on Thunder shooters at that range either. For most of the night it seemed a single screen was enough to free Oklahoma City for a jumper. Portland's defense is nothing to write home about but they've been good at bothering shooters. Fatigue or change in scheme, the Blazers need to get back to that.
Boy, LaMarcus Aldridge did everything he could to match Durant again tonight. You'll recall that he managed that feat last time these two teams met. Tonight the Thunder defended Aldridge better than the Blazers defended Durant. Still, Aldridge hit a dazzling array of contested turn-arounds. He got into the lane and drew fouls as well. He went 12-26, 5-8 from the line for 29 points plus 16 rebounds. He started missing badly as the game closed but the whole team did the same.
Damian Lillard had another, "Not sure what to make of this..." evening. He looked brilliant on offense in short spurts but also took ill-advised shots, fired 6-15, missed all 5 of his three-point attempts, drew only 4 foul shots, hit only 2 of those, and didn't really impact the game overall.
Wesley Matthews had a good night, shooting 4-8 from distance and 7-15 overall for 21 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists...as many as Lillard had. Whatever was affecting the rest of the guys didn't seem to bother Wes.
Nicolas Batum got steamrolled by Durant and looked a little lost. KD can put up 40 on anybody so there's no shame there. But Batum didn't touch the ball as much, didn't do anything decisive when he did, and melded more into the background than we've seen him at any time this season. 1-4 shots, 3 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers, 2 fouls. There's a lot of numbers there. They just didn't add up to much.
Robin Lopez continued his torrent of offense, hitting 5 of 10 shots for 10 points plus 10 rebounds. Matching up against Kendrick Perkins is a lot easier than matching up against Dwight Howard and a bunch of outside shooters. I'm not being facetious about the offense either. Lopez looks totally zoned in with himself making his offensive moves in the post. Plus tonight he added the jumper to the repertoire. Every shot was quick, decisive, fluid...who knew Robin could look less robotic and more like buttah?
This was a Good Mo Williams night. He shot 6-10 from the field, scored 13 in 26 minutes, dished 9 assists, and provided the only lifeline to offense Portland's reserves could manage. The second shift would have gone limp as a noodle without Mo's aggressiveness. He also had 3 personal fouls and 3 turnovers.
C.J. McCollum is also looking more comfortable with himself, his role, and having the ball in his hands. He doesn't know how to set people up yet and Williams in particular gets curtailed on possessions where C.J. has the rock, but McCollum looks smooth with it anyway. 2-3 shots for 5 points in 13 minutes.
Thomas Robinson had 4 rebounds and a block in 11 minutes but you can debate whether he should be playing in a game of this caliber.
Speaking of...Joel Freeland is having a bad week. He got brutalized in Houston last night. Even though this game wasn't quite as bad he still got whistled for 4 fouls in 14 minutes, providing 2 rebounds and 2 points while doing so. I'm having to stretch back to recall the last game in which Freeland really looked effective.
As we said at the outset, 2-2 is more than acceptable for a Texas Triangle plus Oklahoma City road trip, particularly on a four games in five nights pace. The old saw goes, "Win half your road games and all of your home games to be elite." The Blazers didn't just accomplish that, they won half their tough road games. They have a chance to clip the losing streak short as they play Denver at home on Thursday night. It'll probably be nice to wear white again.
Your Jersey Contest Scores and the form for Thursday's game are HERE.
Tonight's Contest Answers:
How many points will Kevin Durant score? 46
Which team will field the player with the most personal fouls? Tie/Both
Will Durant lead all scorers in this game? Yes
Will any non-Illegal Defense technical fouls be called in this game? Yes (Durant got one)