The Portland Trail Blazers calmed the nerves of their fans by snapping their two-game slide with a crucial victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight. It was a gritty affair, but CJ McCollum’s 34 points carried Portland to the win. The Blazers proved once again that they can win ugly, as they overcame poor shooting from outside by controlling the paint. Performance aside, the tension on the court tonight painted an intriguing picture of what a potential postseason matchup between these two sides might look like. It wasn’t the prettiest affair, but Portland fans can move their hand a little further away from the panic button after this win.
Pick Your Poison
The Blazers opened the game with everything clicking on both ends. Oklahoma City had no answer for Portland’s pick-and-roll attack, and they also struggled to track shooters that were utilizing off-ball screens. Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, and Jusuf Nurkic combined to go 7-of-9 from the field to rack up 17 points thanks to a gracious Thunder defense. OKC didn’t have much luck on the other end either, as their field goal percentage got stuck at 29.2 percent for the period. The Blazers finished the first quarter comfortably ahead 34-17.
A Familiar Heel
Portland’s second unit failed to register a point in the first quarter, and the shakiness continued into the second. The lanes tightened inside, which forced the Blazers into much tougher shots. The Thunder found a spark on offense from the unlikely duo of Raymond Felton and Jerami Grant. The reserve duo triggered a 16-0 Oklahoma City run that was eventually capped off by lead-capturing Steven Adams bucket. CJ McCollum was able to get the Blazers back on track with six points in the final moments of the quarter, which helped Portland escape the half ahead 57-52.
Welcome To The Jungle
Both squads enjoyed extended scoring runs in the first half, but the third quarter would have a much different feel. Nothing came easy for either team on offense. Defensive intensity deserves some credit, but both teams committed a plethora of silly mistakes. The frustration finally boiled over with just over three minutes remaining, as a scuffle broke out between Ed Davis and Terrance Ferguson. After separating those involved, four technicals were dished out to the guilty parties. The score remained tight in the moments after the scrum, but Harkless connected on a buzzer-beating three-pointer to put Portland in front 82-80 after three.
CJ Saves The Day
The Blazers struggled with fouls early in the final frame. This set the table for the Thunder to supplement their scoring with foul shots for the entire quarter. Portland made a single free throw in the period compared to Oklahoma City’s nine points from the charity stripe. McCollum was able to lift the Blazers above their choppy play by hitting a litany of tough shots. CJ consistently weaved through the outstretched arms of opposing defenders to connect on shots over their fingertips. Outside of McCollum’s 14-point quarter, the Blazers benefited from Carmelo Anthony’s poor shooting from beyond the arc. The 33-year-old veteran went 0-4 from deep in the fourth quarter. Damian Lillard avoided a scoreless period by hitting a corner three to give the Blazers a 105-103 lead with under a minute to go. Oklahoma City was unable to overcome McCollum’s hot hand and Anthony’s struggles in crunch time, which resulted in crucial victory for Portland.
The Starters Carried The Load
In a stat that will make you double-check the boxscore, Portland’s starting five scored all but 8 of their 108 total points in the game. McCollum and Lillard combined for 58, but Harkless and Nurkic combined for an impressive 33. Sprinkle in Al-Farouq Aminu’s blue-collar work on both ends, and Portland’s starting five proved capable of carrying a struggling bench past a tough Western Conference opponent. The Blazers looked especially dangerous in the first quarter when it seemed like the Thunder were all but helpless against a diverse offensive attack from Portland.
The Blazers overcame a poor three-point shooting night by winning the tough battles inside. Portland shot a paltry 9-of-34 from beyond the arc, but outlasted OKC by scoring 52 in the paint and snagging 18 offensive rebounds. Winning games like that is encouraging.
Carmelo Anthony’s poor night played a factor, but the Blazers’ defense did a excellent job limiting the Thunder’s big three. Paul George and Anthony combined for 22 points, while Russell Westbrook was held to an almost-mortal 23 points. More importantly, George and Anthony failed to connect on a single three-point attempt against the Blazers.
Nurkic Controls The Paint, McCollum Supplies The Buckets
Jusuf Nurkic had a solid double-double against a sturdy Steven Adams. Along with his points and rebounds, Nurkic recorded four blocks and altered several shots inside the paint. The Bosnian Beast looked sharp when it mattered the most in the fourth, and he was able to stay on the court after avoiding foul trouble down the stretch.
CJ McCollum overcame every defensive look the Thunder presented him with. He shot quickly when OKC didn’t switch on screens, and he out-maneuvered bigger defenders when they did switch. McCollum’s 34 was his first 30-point performance since the Blazers’ victory over the Warriors on March 9.
It was an rough night from the field for Damian Lillard, but he managed to go a perfect 11-of-11 from the free throw line. Along with his ability to get to the line, Lillard nabbed three steals by staying aggressive on the defensive end.
Portland’s bench struggled mightily against an opposing second unit that played excellently. Even Ed Davis struggled, as he failed to record at least five rebounds for the first time since mid-February.
Our friends at Welcome to Loud City will have to wait until next year to beat the Blazers in the regular season.
Portland is now three games ahead of Oklahoma City in the loss column for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Blazers will continue their current road trip with a visit to New Orleans to face the Pelicans on Tuesday.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com