Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant Soars, Freeland Injured

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

The Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder play an ugly, grinding game but Kevin Durant's brilliance and Portland injuries combine to give the Thunder a 98-95 victory.

The Portland Trail Blazers fought hard against adverse circumstances tonight, getting the best of the Oklahoma City Thunder for portions of their 98-95 donnybrook.  But even during the good parts of the game the Blazers played like they were dragging a ball and chain behind them.  Kevin Durant being immune to mortal limitations like gravity and drag force, the Thunder came out on top.

Normally we give you a quarter-by-quarter game flow here but this game didn't have much flow.  It progressed in fits and starts, much like phlegm being expectorated from a lung.  Lots of hacking preceded flurries of motion for one team or the other.  Interspersed throughout were gross moments that nobody really should have seen.  Then all would go quiet until new rumblings started.  More hacking.  More spasms.  More moments of yuck.  Cough...wheeze...hocccchhhhhhh ptooie! Hack! Hack! Hack!  Ewww!  What?  Huh?  Oh no, not again.  Hack! Hack! Hack! Ptooie! Blech!  And....ballgame.

Honestly I'm not sure if you guys need a recap or a good dose of Robitussin.

The story of the game wasn't that complex.  When the Blazers held the Thunder to Durant's points alone--closing out on his teammates, not letting them free for drives, and rebounding well--Portland has the advantage.  The MVP scored like a whirlwind but the Blazers stayed ahead.  When the Blazers didn't get to the foul line or couldn't keep dribblers and rebounders under control the Thunder had a clear advantage.  Enough of both happened that the game was virtually even down the stretch.  The Thunder hit their shots in crunch time.  The Blazers did not.  End of story.

The Blazers also rehearsed a couple nightmare scenarios in this game.  Joel Freeland went down with a knee injury in the first quarter.  Since they couldn't play Robin Lopez all game long, guess who the Blazers had to make do with?  If you said Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson, give yourself a cookie.  Then go offer it up to a deity at a convenient place of worship or just build yourself a little homemade shrine and crumble up chocolate chips to the universe while begging that Freeland doesn't stay down for long.  Leonard had a couple good moments and Robinson a few more but the team does not look right when they're on the floor.

Another partial nightmare evidenced itself as LaMarcus Aldridge played at 80% normal speed and 50% normal lift while nursing what the Blazers broadcasting crew termed a groin injury.  That contributed to a 5-22, 12-point night during which Aldridge attempted no dribble moves and in which he missed almost all of his face-up jumpers.  That included a potential go-ahead 20-footer with 2 seconds remaining in the game.  Folks, if you have to find a 28-year-old Yu-Gi-Oh duelist and sacrifice him in the nearest volcano to keep this from hanging around or getting worse, do it.  The Blazers cannot absorb that kind of performance from their main offensive cog.

The Thunder didn't play that well themselves.  Durant was masterful, of course.  The Blazers guarded him with Wesley Matthews out of the gate.  Durant took Matthews down to the 10-12 foot range and elevated over him for easy deuces.  Nicolas Batum took over Durant Watch during critical possessions after that and did a credible job...one of his better outings of the last few months.  But Durant was Durant.  His teammates didn't help him much outside of a couple scoring jags by Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson.  Lamb got lost in the rotation while Jackson just blew by defenders like they didn't matter.  But this wasn't a game-long condition.  The Blazers actually did pretty well with OKC's supporting cast, forcing turnovers, pasting offensive rebounds on them, and contesting most shots.

Unfortunately that cast returned the favor and added an encore or two.  The Blazers shot 38% in this game compared to 48% for Oklahoma City.  Portland shot 7-23 from distance, 30%.  The Thunder hit 7 triples also but only took 14 shots for a 50% rate beyond the arc.  The Blazers had a slight offensive rebounding advantage but couldn't make it tell, only attempting 2 more shots than OKC did.  Oklahoma City forced the Blazers into as many ugly turnovers as the Blazers forced in return.  Plus the Thunder held a 13-5 advantage on the break.

If you don't get up more shots than your opponent, shoot a much lower percentage from the field than they do, end up even in turnovers and mostly even in offensive rebounds, lose the battle for points in the paint and transition, and can't gain an edge in three-pointers how do you even keep the game close?  Blazer fans know.  Oklahoma City 11-12 at the free throw line, Portland 24-27. 15 more attempts and +13 points from the charity stripe kept the Blazers close in this one.  And don't think the Thunder didn't notice it with Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Coach Scotty Brooks all drawing technicals.  It still wasn't enough.  We saw again tonight that when paired with another advantage free throws serve the Blazers well but when that's all the Blazers have, it ain't enough.

That free throws and a couple stellar performances for the non-All-Stars were the only hat-hanging material for the Blazers shows you what kind of night it was.  That Oklahoma City still only won by 3 shows you what kind of game it was.  Tough shots, tough luck, tough news...tough loss.

Individual Notes

We've already covered LaMarcus Aldridge's scoring and his difficulty elevating and moving in this game.  We need to add 12 rebounds to the story.  Even on a hard night he's still providing boards this year.

Damian Lillard didn't fare all that much better, shooting 5-15, 1-7 from distance, for 16 points.  He had 7 assists against a single turnover...a great night in that vein.

Wesley Matthews drew 8 foul shots and hit 7.  That saved a semi-disastrous outing for him.  He shot 2-10 from the field, 0-4 beyond the arc.  A couple of those misses from range were soul-sucking as the Blazers were trying to create separation in the fourth period and got him pretty good looks.  Matthews also had 4 turnovers and once again looked like he was trying to create offense out of whole cloth instead of letting it come to him.

Nicolas Batum turned in a stellar performance.  He shot 5-8 from the field, 3-5 on triples, 5-5 from the line, scored 18, added 4 assists and only 1 turnover, and ran all over the floor trying to create pressure while still drawing duty on Durant during critical moments.  Even with the slightly lower shot-attempt total this was a throwback to the Batum we saw at the beginning of the season.  The broadcasters saw fit to mention for the 4000th time this month that Nic is playing with a broken finger on his left hand.  Yes, he is.  Let's all say it together.  "Nicolas Batum is doing this with a broken finger on his left hand!"  That is exactly the point.  We saw a completely different Nicolas Batum out there tonight than we've seen over most of the last month and a half.  He can do this.  Nicolas Batum can make appropriate and aggressive decisions about when to shoot with a broken finger on his left hand.  Nicolas Batum can pour energy into defense with a broken finger on his left hand.  Nicolas Batum can pressure opposing dribblers in the backcourt, make rotations, pass the ball, drive and dunk, and lead his team for stretches of the game with a broken finger on his left hand.  So now, can we all just stop talking about the broken finger on Nicolas Batum's left hand?  And more to the point, next time Batum doesn't do these things, which lately has been in roughly 4 of any given 6 games, can we stop crediting it to the broken finger on his left hand?  Shoot the ball quickly and decisively when you're open, make good passes, and lead the defense and everybody will sing your praises every night.  Fail to do those things and it doesn't matter what you break.  This is the NBA.  Results matter.

Speaking of results...Robin Lopez: great game.  The Thunder drove right at him early in the game and he went all, "No...no...NOPE...no...get that out of here...no...dangit where are all you guys coming from...I said no...nope...out....BEGONE!" on them.  Lopez had 6 offensive rebounds, 14 total.  He scored 17 on 7-9 shooting including hitting one improbable, covered baseline jumper in the fourth after which he appeared to throw the TWO goggles...or something like that.  He had 2 blocks and only drew 2 personal fouls.  It was the archetypal Lopez effort.  As has become typical the Thunder drew him out of the lane later in the game and his teammates couldn't replace him once he left his post...a cruel blow because their own slipshod defense required his help in the first place.

C.J. McCollum had his best offensive night as a Blazer, which I suppose means his best night as a Blazer, period.  He shot 5-12 overall but hit 3 of 6 three-point attempts...a much-needed boost from the otherwise-anemic bench.  His 15 points might have been credited with preserving the game had Portland won.  Defensively he's still learning but we knew that would be an issue and he's only a few weeks into his career.  That's the plus-minus of playing him though.

At least McCollum has a pretty clear plus.  To represent the plus and minus from the rest of the bench, we present this short, one-act play.

Plus: Dee plane, Boss!  Dee plane!

Minus: Fee, fie, foe, fum!  (STOMP)  EWWWW!  Me step in plus!  Now foot slimy!

And...scene!

Yes, Thomas Robinson had 5 rebounds and one good swipe from Durant in 7 minutes.  Yes, Meyers Leonard had a good stick-back dunk.  But I don't even need to describe what happens to the schemes on both ends when they play.  It's like playing Counter Strike with one Rambo kamikaze guy and another guy who wanders around unloading clips into things aimlessly and never clears a doorway...and he's the Medic.

Earl Watson deserves respect for being a long-tenured NBA veteran.  It's also hard for the Blazers to maintain with Watson on the floor right now.

The Los Angeles Clippers host the Blazers tomorrow night in the final game before the All-Star break.

Boxscore

Timmay's Instant Recap and Gameday Thread Review

Welcome to Loud City

Your Jersey Contest form and scores are HERE.  Tonight's answers: Kevin Durant scores 3 point on 3-pointers, Blazers score 34 in the paint, Thunder score 13 in transition, teams combine for under 211 points.  Blazermaniac 32 scored 70 out of a possible 100 in this game, the best score of the night.  Living leads so far this month with 319 points, a 63.8 per game average.

Stay tuned for the Media Row Report, the preview of tomorrow's Blazers-Clippers tilt, and a new Videocast all coming later tonight!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail,com)

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