Saying the Portland Trail Blazers were desperate for a win Sunday afternoon against the Oklahoma City Thunder may be a stretch. But with five games remaining before the All-Star break this would have made a nice turn-around game. No such luck. Portland came out flat, lacking any kind of energy, emotion, or physicality. Oklahoma City jumped all over them. The game flipped on its head halfway through and Portland looked like a different team. It was too late. Timely shooting and an avalanche of Russell Westbrook takeovers allowed the Thunder to walk away with a 105-99 victory.
If you were looking for the Blazers to rebound today—either in the statistical sense or emotionally from a disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks Friday night—you were disappointed early and often. The Thunder won the opening tip and proceeded to miss 5-shots in a row, all of which they rebounded before Portland got to touch the ball. That would prove the theme of the night with the Thunder dominating the backboards and the paint.
On the other end Portland’s offense was as dry as a Sahara-burned Triscuit. The first quarter featured more Blazers turnovers (6) than field goals (5). That’s basically everything you didn’t want to happen right out of the gate. Yet Portland was only down 8 after one, 24-16.
Portland turned it around in the second quarter. This wasn’t so much a flip as a 720-alley-oop-McTwist-triple-Lutz. Allen Crabbe, CJ McCollum, and Evan Turner transformed into precision-guided shooting machines, hitting 10 of 13 for 24 points. Their output was more than the Thunder could muster (22 points). Hooray for size coming off the Blazers bench! After getting annihilated on the boards in the first, Meyers Leonard came in and slowed things down, gobbling up 5 rebounds to force the closest thing Portland had to a stalemate in that department all night long. The score at the half read 52-46, Portland and things were looking up.
The third quarter hit like a Super Bowl food coma. The Blazers just couldn’t get out of first gear. Mason Plumlee was the only guy in a Portland uniform who hit more than a single shot in the period. But the Thunder lost control of the boards and turned the ball over incessantly. But Russell Westbrook scored enough to bring the game within two heading into the final frame 73-71.
Any hope for the Blazers closing out with a win went out the window quickly. They bricked multiple threes while Westbrook went Leroy Jenkins from mid-range.
Mid-range may give statistical analysts nightmares but they exploit the weakest area of Portland’s defensive scheme. Let’s be honest here though, if you have to pick between Westbrook running down hill at the rim or him taking pull up jumpers, which would you rather him do? The better answer would have been getting the ball out of his hands but they couldn’t manage it. He scored 19 in the fourth. Paired with the Thunder’s continued dominance of the boards and Portland’s inability to knock down threes, the Thunder secured the fairly easy win.
The Portland Trail Blazers are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside a flaming bag of crap. Every time you think you have something figured out, it disappears as quickly as it materialized. There is no team in the NBA that vacillates from greatness, to mediocrity, to just downright awful, minute to minute, game to game and week to week.
After a disastrous opening quarter against the Mavericks that ultimately cost them the game, you would expect that Portland would look to get off to a brighter start. Yet, they came out as flat if not flatter than they did against Dallas. In the second quarter they were a completely different team. It makes little sense. Trying to discern a singular point to discuss is nearly impossible on nights like this. The only consistent trend was that they didn’t have an answer for Westbrook and that proved fatal.
While Lillard and McCollum both had solid nights on the offensive end they were also responsible for some crucial defensive breakdowns along the way. The bigs stayed home to protect the paint. As a result they couldn’t step up to take away Westbrook’s looks but they still managed to lose the rebounding battle. Portland didn’t move the ball on offense (15 total assists) and let the Thunder run wild on the break. With all that, its a miracle the game was competitive as late as it was.
Lillard and McCollum combined for 48 points, nice. But only dished out 4 assists, not nice. It also took them 37 shots to get those 48 points. It’s crazy that this is considered subpar, but right now Portland needs superstar performances from at least one of them to win on a nightly basis. That didn’t happen.
Mason Plumlee was Portland’s third-leading scorer today with 13. But he was thoroughly dominated by Steven Adams all night long. For a while it was starting to look like he had found a way to make these kinds of a match-ups a push or at least keep it close. Tonight the big Kiwi did the pushing, swallowing up 9 offensive rebounds.
Allen Crabbe made a cameo appearance in the second quarter, shooting 4-4 for the period. He shot 0-6 in the other three. Typically, when he gets on a roll it carries throughout the evening. This just wasn’t the case tonight, although he was the leading scorer off the bench with 10 points.
Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless both had rough nights. Along with Evan Turner, Aminu was tasked with trying to slow down Westbrook for long periods. It did not go well. Aminu at one point literally spun around 360-degrees when Westbrook hit him with an in-and-out dribble move. Harkless was mostly a bystander on a night when his energy, hustle and defense were sorely needed. Combined the two managed 13 points on 14 shots and 10 rebounds.
Links and Such
WelcomeToLoudCity will enjoy getting one back after the loss in Portland
The Trail Blazers travel to Dallas for a quick rematch with the Mavericks at 5:30 PM PST on Tuesday.
—Dan Marang @DMarang