When the Portland Trail Blazers met the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday evening it was supposed to be a titanic clash of possible first-round playoff foes...two skilled and motivated teams establishing their post-season bona fides by leaving an impression tattooed on the other's forehead.
That was half right.
The Thunder came into this game loaded for bear, ready to mop the floor with the Blazers and their playoff pretensions. The Blazers responded with all the integrity of a souffle in a train station. The result was a massive 128-94 victory for Oklahoma City and another opportunity for soul-searching for Portland.
The game didn't start out horribly for the Blazers. The first 6:00 of the contest featured no defense whatsoever from either team. It was like they signed a defensive non-aggression pact. Then Serge Ibaka threw in a couple magnificent stands and broke the agreement all to heck. The Blazers kept sending peace envoys, conceding the Thunder anything they wanted, but the guys in blue never called off the attack. Oklahoma City ripped off a 15-0 run to end the first quarter, riding Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, offensive rebounds, and a total lack of Portland cohesion to a 31-22 lead.
It only got worse from there as Portland's second unit proved incapable of scoring while the defense remained just as inept. The Thunder spent the second period hitting buckets in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. The Blazers shot late and under duress. Oklahoma City converted layups and dunks salted with the occasional three-pointer when Portland defenders sagged down. The Blazers settled for contested shots, most of them deep, all errant. When halftime arrived the Thunder were up 24. Westbook was just one rebound shy of a triple-double at intermission.
Oklahoma City's lead would balloon to 30 in the second half as Portland's play ranged from unremarkable to unmentionable. Had this been an MMA bout the refs would have stopped it 2 minutes after the break. As it was, only the final horn could relieve the deluge of misery. Finishing the game 34 points behind may not have summed up the totality of Portland's collapse.
Games like this are hard to analyze seriously. We saw nothing less than a complete breakdown of the principles that bring the Trail Blazers--or anybody--success. It's one thing when a first quarter makes you say, "The first team to play defense tonight is going to gain an advantage." It's another thing when only one team plays defense all evening. When the Blazers weren't standing around they actively got in each other's lanes. Portland's bench was an unmitigated disaster on both ends of the floor.
The Thunder were able to point out where their opponent's shots were coming from and defend accordingly, crushing Portland's scoring and spirit at the same time. Whatever the Blazers knew about their opponent hardly mattered; they never did anything about it.
Portland's defense on Westbrook was the most egregious offense of the evening. (And there were dozens.) He likes to take over games. The Blazers spent the entire first period letting him get two steps on a defender then closing haphazardly, leaving him to choose between an easy shot or an easy pass. Letting #0 have his head late in the game might be understandable, as he's likely to freeze out everyone else. Letting him run wild from the outset only sets him up for a billion points followed by easy offense for his teammates.
The Blazers ended up shooting 34% from the field and 26% from the three-point arc tonight. They allowed the Thunder 60% and 53%. Clearly the Thunder defended better but that shooting gap is still obnoxious. Just as telling: Portland managed only 13 assists on 31 made shots while OKC tallied 31 assists on 49 makes. Finishing 18 assists to the bad is one thing but Oklahoma City had as many assisted conversions as the Blazers had total conversions. That's a massacre.
Plus the Blazers went -11 in fast break points, -14 in points in the paint...ugh.
In a game like this, they don't matter. Let's just say that Portland's offense got increasingly more desperate as the game progressed but their defense never showed a pulse. That was a near-team-wide malaise. How could anybody credit their offensive accomplishments when they allowed 128 points on 60% shooting as a team?
I suppose we could list the players who looked really bad in this outing but we only have so much bandwidth.
We will mention thatWestbrook finished the game with 17 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds on 7-11 shooting. Had he chosen to, he could have scored 40.
Enes Kanter led all scorers in this game with 26 points in 22 minutes, shooting 9-15, 8-8 from the foul line.
Links and Such
Boxscore (Handle with tongs.)
I don't think we're running any Blazers videos from this one. Others were posting them online but that's like pointing out, "What's that floating across the waves? Why, it's a deck chair from the Titanic!" We'll see.
Welcome to Loud City will be happy to have this kind of turn-around after their team's recent woes.
The Blazers now stand at 35-33, good for 6th place in the Western Conference playoff bracket. They're half a game ahead of the 7th- and 8th- place Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, both of whom won tonight. They trail the 5th-place Memphis Grizzlies by 5 games, as the Grizzlies lost to Houston.
Portland's road trip continues on Thursday night with a visit to San Antonio to face the Spurs at 5:30 p.m. Pacific.