The story of the game tonight was the Blazers' starting lineup overwhelming the Thunder. The key was a sharp, efficient interior defense that channeled penetrators into help and secured rebounds off of the OKC jumpers that followed. When none of the Thunder scorers could get a shot up in the paint their night was essentially done. They shot sub-30% for most of the game. They recouped some buckets in garbage time to bring the final percentage up to 36.5% but that was like people putting designer laces on their K-Mart Pro-Keds back when I was a kid. They were what they were. That neon yellow string didn't distract anyone from the fact that you paid $14.99 for those under a flashing blue light and, well, they ain't Chuck Taylors.
Here's all you need to know about the defensive effort tonight. Kevin Durant 4-13 for 13 points, 13 under his season average. Russell Westbrook 1-8 for 8 points, 8 under his season average. Jeff Green 4-9 for 12 points, 5 under his season average. Combined the three took 16 fewer shots than they're used to. When that happens it doesn't matter how good of a night Shaun Livingston or Chucky Atkins have. There's a loss on your plate and mama won't let you leave the table until you finish it.
Credit for the defense on Durant, half denial and half pressure, goes to a multitude of players. Nicolas Batum had him at the outset but LaMarcus, Travis, and even Brandon all took their turns. Plus our big men were hyper-alert about rotating over and cutting off the driving lane no matter which Thunder player tried to enter the paint. It was a smart plan, well-executed.
Another key to the blowout was domination on the boards. OKC got 9 offensive rebounds. The Blazers barely let them sniff the ball after they missed. Portland, on the other hand, got 21 offensive boards. Not only did those lead to second-chance points, they utterly destroyed any chance the Thunder had at running or altering the tempo in any way. Oklahoma City plays at a far higher pace than the Blazers normally but Portland got up 91 shots tonight to OKC's 74. They just stood the Thunder on their heads.
The rebounding dominance also afforded the Blazers the opportunity to run, which they took advantage of to break the game open early. LaMarcus Aldridge again beat his man down the court. The Blazers also scored on the secondary break. The early offense set the Thunder back on their heels so they were easy pickings by the time we settled into our normal offensive routine. Portland shot 46.7% overall and 41.2% (7-17) from distance.
If there was any shortcoming tonight it was one we've seen recently: the second unit isn't looking cohesive and isn't executing consistently, particularly in the first half of games. You'll get some good individual efforts out of them plus a nice play or three, but on both ends of the court they look disjointed. It's not bad play as much as just being stalled. They actually lost a large chunk of the lead the starters built in the first half and it fell to the first unit to rebuild it (which they easily did).
That wasn't a huge deal tonight, though. Portland did exactly what it had to do and made easy work of Oklahoma City. The playoff seeding fight continues.
--The post-game reflection in the Thunder locker room consisted of a guy in a suit saying, "It's OK. It's alright. Just show me on the doll what LaMarcus Aldridge did to you." It was pretty bad. He scored 35 on 14-24 shooting, 7-8 from the line, with 18 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block. He was part of that defensive rotation crew that clogged the middle and obviously he did serious work on the boards. He operated inside and outside on both ends of the court and did so with aggression. He is looking more and more polished every week.
--Brandon Roy wasn't exactly on tonight but as it was LaMarcus' game that didn't hurt us much. Oklahoma City obviously game-planned to make life difficult on Brandon, jumping him on picks, harassing him before he could take two dribbles, and getting to him at the 20-foot mark instead of waiting for him to work. Roy got 12 shots up, hitting 5 for 15 points. He had 6 boards and 2 assists.
--Joel Przybilla had 11 rebounds and 3 blocks and was the key to the defense working early. He was pitch-perfect moving his feet and reading what his teammates needed.
--Steve Blake had a couple of sweet drives tonight and canned 2 of 6 three-pointers for 14 points overall. More importantly he took advantage of his teammates running and backdoor cutting on the Thunder to the tune of 10 assists.
--Nicolas Batum got 30 minutes in the blowout, did well against Durant when he was assigned to him, hit both threes he took, and ended up with 8 points and 5 rebounds for the game.
--Nobody off the bench got big minutes tonight. Nate wanted this game salted away until it was inedible. Outlaw shot 4-9 for 9 points with 2 steals. Channing Frye shot 3-5 in 10 minutes and finished with 6 points. Sergio Rodriguez accumulated 8 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and a steal in 18 minutes. Greg Oden had 8 points and 7 offensive rebounds (8 total boards) in 16 minutes. He also had 5 fouls. Rudy matched Greg with 5 fouls but didn't hit a shot all night (3 field goal attempts--all threes--and 2 free throws) and finished with zero points.
The Blazers got their share of nice calls tonight, so it does happen occasionally. Oklahoma City never so much as sniffed at controlling the game, so I don't think it mattered much.
I got to watch the Oklahoma City feed tonight and I have to say that play-by-play man Brian Davis and color commentator Grant Long are two of the best broadcasters I've heard as far as preparedness and conveying the action. I think part of it was them just doing their jobs well instead of burdening us with their pathos or pep or overbearing personalities. They trod that fine line between showing their talent and knowledge and showcasing it, providing smart, entertaining coverage without getting in between us and the game. It was a pleasure to listen to them.
Hear what a blowout feels like over at Welcome to Loud City.
Those who are interested can check out the Jersey Contest playoff scores here.
If you are in the playoffs (nobody else should enter) you can enter the next game here. Remember that the Bottom 8 will see their playoff run end after Sunday's game.
For those who are interested (which includes...I don't know...EVERYBODY) the Spurs won tonight but the Jazz, Mavericks, Hornets, and Rockets lost. This was Utah's third loss in as many division games. They have no more remaining. This opens the door for the Blazers to claim the tie-breaker with Utah. Portland would have to win its two remaining division games...the final two games of the season against Oklahoma City and Denver, both at home.
Here are the current Western Conference standings, 2-7:
- 2. Denver 50-26
- 3. San Antonio 49-26
- 4. Portland 48-27
- 5. Houston 48-28
- 6. New Orleans 47-28
- 7. Utah 46-30
- 8. Dallas 45-31