Oh man. The merriest of Merry Christmases came to Portland Trail Blazers fans tonight. The Blazers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in "I turned it off a while ago...let me just check the boxscore to see how bad they lost...WHAAATT???" fashion. Down by 10 with 2:00 left in regulation, the Blazers rode Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge to a tie at the horn, then blitzed over their hosts in overtime for the victory.
Let's dispense with the pleasantries and get down to business. The first 3.5 quarters of this game can be summarized thusly:
1. Whoever made three-pointers (or at least open jumpers) prospered.
2. Whoever rebounded also prospered.
3. Whoever could stop the other team's guards would have had complete control over the game but neither team could do it.
This led to 46 minutes of alternating runs during which one or the other team succeeded in 2 out of the 3 above-mentioned categories. The Thunder scored far more in the paint. The Blazers hit far more threes. But Oklahoma City's interior play did open up the floor and they took advantage. Plus the Blazers couldn't stop Russell Westbrook a little more than the Thunder couldn't stop Damian Lillard. The result was that nasty 10-point lead for OKC with 120 seconds remaining in the game.
The tide started to turn at the 1:32 mark when Westbrook fouled Lillard then complained about it, resulting in a technical and 2 foul shots...the equivalent of a 3-pointer. The Blazers trailed by 7.
A Wesley Matthews steal with just over a minute remaining led to a true three-pointer by Lillard. The Blazers now trailed by 4.
Westbrook canned a jumper with 44 seconds remaining but Aldridge countered with a layup with 35 seconds left. Portland still trailed by 4.
After missing a jumper Serge Ibaka fouled Aldridge with 6 seconds left. Aldridge hit both free throws and the Blazers trailed by 2.
Portland fouled Westbrook, who made only 1 of 2 free throws. The score was 98-95 with 5 seconds remaining, Blazers' ball.
At this point we take a discussion break.
Hey Serge Ibaka, what did you do over the summer?
"I caught up on my Dan Brown novels. Why?"
Hey Russell Westbrook, how about you?
"I went windsurfing in the Caribbean. It was awesome!"
Reggie Jackson? How'd you spend your summer?
"I climbed to the top of a tall mountain and lived in a cave, trying to find my inner yogi."
So none of you saw the Play of the Year, like on ESPN or YouTube or something?
"Play of the Year...that was The Book of Mormon, right?"
No, that was a musical. The Play of the...oops. Nevermind. The Blazers are inbounding it now.
On the ensuing inbounds play (see video here) with few seconds on the clock and the Blazers desperately needing a three, Damian Lillard came from the right side baseline, running past a staggered screen to receive the pass from the left sideline.
Houston....errrr...Oklahoma City looked confused on the coverage, not understanding whether to switch or follow underneath the staggered screen or fight through it. They ended up doing none of the above, leaving Lillard free as a bird. The only differences between this shot and THE Shot were less clapping and tonight the part of Nicolas Batum was played by understudy Steve Blake. Other than that it was clockwork, right down to the satisfying swish.
This was like challenging The Beatles to a battle of the bands and then letting them play "Hey, Jude". Bad idea.
The Thunder paid for it, too. Westbrook missed a long bomb to win the game, which then went into overtime. A couple of threes and an Aldridge and-one propelled the Blazers to a 111-106 lead which they never relinquished. Westbrook fouled out, Ibaka and Aldridge got into a nasty shoving match underneath one of the stanchions, but the scoreboard provided no fireworks. Portland walked away with the 115-111 win and an INCREDIBLE 3-1 finish to their current road trip.
Hope you found inner peace, Reggie, cuz you and your yogi just got beat.
1. Are the Blazers ever going to lose, short of Aldridge sitting out? If so, how? Discuss.
2. If they are, evidently you need to get them down more than double-digits in the fourth. Perhaps triple-digits will suffice.
3. How big of a confidence boost will overtime wins against the two pre-season conference favorites become? And on the road to boot? You cannot say enough about facing San Antonio, New Orleans, Houston, and OKC on the road and coming out 3-1. I know Kevin Durant, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard didn't play. We can't make any judgments about playoff matchups from injury-riddled December outings. But 3-1 is 3-1, folks. 1-3 would have been semi-acceptable in this stretch. 2-2 would have been great. 3...and...1. That's amazing.
Fun With Numbers
--Westbrook scored 40 tonight. The Blazers couldn't contain him.
--Lillard scored 40 tonight. The Thunder couldn't contain him.
--Lillard took 21 shots to get his, Westbrook 34 shots. That was part of the difference in this game.
--Wesley Matthews (22) and LaMarcus Aldridge (25) were better than Reggie Jackson (21) and Serge Ibaka (16). That was the other part.
--Oklahoma City scored an outrageous 54 points in the paint. Westbrook wasn't really hitting jumpers, but he didn't have to.
--The Blazers countered by hitting an even-more-outrageous 17 of 31 triples, 55%.
--40 points from Lillard and 55% team three-point shooting made Aldridge's 25 points look unremarkable. Think about that for a second. "25? Who cares. Did you see the shooting?" This is a good place to be.
--23-7 is impressive, but 11-5 away from home is stellar. 21 wins on the road would make the Blazers a very good team; 25 would place then with league's elite. They're 14 wins and 11 losses from the latter mark...a smidge above .500.
Is your power forward sick? Is your small forward hurting and unable to play? Did your center go down with a long-term injury? No problem, just pull out your Wonder Lillard. It slices! It dices! It makes julienne defenders! Other teams are done when they get down by 10 or more late. With the Wonder Lillard, you don't have to hang your head anymore. Just push a single button and, WOW! He pulps and juices the opponents. 6 stainless steel cutting blades reduce even the stoutest defense into mush, ready to siphon down the drain. Best of all, the Wonder Lillard can be yours for 12 easy payments of $278,000. But order now because when this deal runs out, the price is going to rise to A BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR. It'll be worth it too. 40 points, 11-21 shooting, 8-12 three-point shooting, 11-12 foul shots, 11 assists, 2 steals, 6 rebounds. That's one way to stop Russell Westbrook.
If this keeps up, Lillard is going to have to add the "MG" to is uniform number.
LaMarcus Aldridge looked a little slow but still picked his spots in the post and on the boards. 25 and 9 isn't bad even with 9-28 shooting.
Wesley Matthews hit the Thunder while they were all staring at Lillard. Matthews hit 5-8 from distance and scored 22. It's not fair when he shoots that well.
Allen Crabbe got the start tonight in Batum's absence. He only scored 5 but he had a heck of an "other" night with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block. I'm slowly starting to expect good things from Crabbe on a nightly basis (as opposed to hoping to see them). We're seeing why Coach Stotts had faith in his game apart from his scoring.
Joel Freeland also started and had an unremarkable outing.
Thomas Robinson's brain keeps thinking that Thomas Robinson can do things that Thomas Robinson can't do, especially on offense. 6 rebounds in 8 minutes is hard to argue with though.
Chris Kaman got 9 rebounds in 22 minutes but his offense and defense looked as awkward as a junior-high slow dance.
Steve Blake had only 5 points and 5 assists in 35 minutes but he helped defend those OKC guards a little better.
Dorell Wright posted an enormous +13 in 8 minutes tonight, which means Dorell Wright played with Damian Lillard.
CJ McCollum posted a horrific -21 in 12 minutes, which means CJ McCollum did not.
The Trail Blazers now get a very happy Christmas off. On December 26th they will try to exchange the Philadelphia 76'ers at Walmart for an ugly sweater and stale fruitcake. Walmart's not going to go for that.
Our Instant Recap talks more about Game Flow and post-game reaction.
Welcome to Loud City got real quiet when Lillard hit that game-tying three.
Check out the latest edition of the Blazer's Edge Podcast. Phil Naessens is going to be crowing even louder next week because he predicted 3-1 on this trip before it started.
Please help underprivileged youth see Portland's March 30th game against the Phoenix Suns by contributing tickets to Blazer's Edge Night. The cost of a ticket is low and the joy it brings into the life of a child who otherwise wouldn't get to see a game is immeasurable. We're looking to send over 1000 kids this year. You can find all the details here.