Some NBA games are complex, a dance between equally matched, ferociously fighting opponents that only careful analysis and advanced metrics can explain fully.
This was not one of those games.
The Oklahoma City Thunder met the charge of the Portland Trail Blazers with ease Wednesday night, absorbing jabs and ducking wild haymakers, building a 20-point lead that they had little trouble holding onto. The Blazers never gave up on their attack but they might as well have been smacking a Sherman Tank with a violin. When the final horn sounded Oklahoma City had earned a 106-90 victory, leaving the Blazers 0-1 to start their 5-game Christmas road trip.
You know those Monopoly games when somebody buys up Boardwalk and Park Place in their first two trips around the board and begins pounding everybody else into oblivion? That's how the Thunder treated the Blazers tonight, the lane representing their prime-time property of choice.
Oklahoma City began the evening dishing to Steven Adams. Their center looked 8 feet taller and 3 feet wider than the Blazers defending him and the Thunder took full advantage. The script was simple: Russell Westbrook burned his man, drawing Portland's defenders in, then tossed the ball to a singly-defended (or undefended) Adams for an easy conversion. Kevin Durant getting in the act gave OKC the red Kentucky Avenue trio as well. When Westbrook himself started scoring they claimed ownership of every property between St. James Place and Go. Like Monopoly, the game was still going to take two and a half hours, but the outcome was already decided.
Despite their disadvantages the Blazers put up a fight. CJ McCollum drained plenty of shots off of screens. Ed Davis punched his time card with a couple offensive rebounds. Damian Lillard made up for a 6-20 shooting night with 4 of 8 three-pointers made, 3 of them at the tail end of the first half to bring the Blazers back within respectability. But the respite was brief, worth maybe a couple of houses on Connecticut Avenue. The Thunder paid the rent, then made the Blazers circle the board again in the second half, this time with hotels dotting the landscape as far as the eye could see. Portland never made a serious offensive run after Lillard's outburst. They never kept the Thunder from scoring in the lane on the other end either. Had the game gone 14 periods the results would have been no different. The final horn was more than welcome.
How did the Blazers lose tonight? Let us count the ways.
--Oklahoma City scored 48 points in the paint. They're good at that, averaging 45 per game this season. Portland saw it coming but couldn't stop it.
--The Blazers turned over the ball 18 times for 25 OKC points.
--As a result, the Thunder ended up shooting 48% to Portland's 35%. That stat wasn't quite as bad as it seems; Portland shot 42% from distance while OKC barely cleared 14%. But that was Portland's only answer to the gap and it wasn't near enough. Missing 60 shots in a single game hurts no matter what distance you're shooting from.
--Oklahoma City attempted 37 free throws, Portland 18.
--Portland ripped down an ultra-impressive 17 offensive boards but allowed OKC 14 themselves, negating their best advantage.
--Every time the Blazers tried to go into the paint, the Thunder sent them back with a blocked shot. Serge Ibaka tallied 4 blocks on his own, his team 8.
--The Thunder won the fast break battle 16-8.
--Portland's eye-searing shooting performances included: Damian Lillard 6-20, Mason Plumlee 4-14, Al-Farouq Aminu 2-7, Allen Crabbe 1-5, Meyers Leonard 2-8, and Gerald Henderson 1-5. Oklahoma City had the Blazers scouted. Unlike so many other teams this season, they never let them off the hook. McCollum's escapes off of screens provided the only easy attempts the Blazers got all evening. Everything else was a struggle.
All of that said, if you're tempted to get down about this outing as a Blazers fan, consider being thankful that there haven't been more of these games instead. This was exactly the kind of defeat envisioned when pundits predicted win totals in the low 30's for Portland this year. So far they've been far better, both in victories and effectiveness of play. This wasn't a game to be proud of but it doesn't erase the season so far either.
Let's keep this brief. McCollum was brilliant with 24 points on 9-18 shooting. He looked far better than Westbrook. Everybody else rebounded but that was it.
Ed Davis looked good all around. The last month he's ended up smelling like a rose irrespective of opponent. We see you, Ed.
Also can someone tell me why every Oklahoma City big man looks like a movie villain? Is that their secret to getting quality players at power forward and center?
Links and Such
Boxscore (use tongs)
Welcome to Loud City covers the Thunder.
The road trip continues on Friday as the Blazers face the Orlando Magic at 4:00 p.m. Pacific. That should be an interesting matchup.
We invite you to help send 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers play the Sacramento Kings on March 28th. Your ticket donations make this possible. You can donate through this link:
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--Dave firstname.lastname@example.org / @DaveDeckard / @Blazersedge