In a possible preview of a first-round playoff matchup, the Portland Trail Blazers got the best of the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday, holding on at home 108-100 in front of a raucous Moda Center crowd.
Implications aplenty, both teams rose to the occasion with playoff intensity from the opening tip, making for a physical and at times emotional contest that stayed close into the final seconds. Although the Blazers held the lead for most of the evening, they weren’t quite able to put the Thunder away for good until the final horn.
With the win, Portland improves to 37-26 and holds on to its 3rd-place spot in the unbelievably crowded Western Conference standings. For now. The Blazers also secured a potential tiebreaker with OKC, winning the season series 3-0. This could be huge.
The Blazers were led by C.J. McCollum (28 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) and Damian Lillard (20 points, 7 assists). Evan Turner also played a key role, hitting his first three 3-pointers and finishing with 17 points.
The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook (30 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists on 12-31 shooting) and Paul George (21 points, 7 rebounds). Carmelo Anthony, curiously, rested tonight and did not play.
- My Turn. The Thunder clearly made a concerted effort to get the ball out of Lillard’s hands as much as possible, double-teaming him often and early. With much of the attention focused on Dame, it was up to McCollum to be the Alpha Dog and he delivered, carrying the offensive workload and knocking down some big shots down the stretch when OKC threatened to take over. After an up and down February for C.J., this was what you want to see from Dame’s wingman. On a night where the Joker had Batman subdued, Robin was right there to save the day.
- The North Remembers. Six seasons removed from his tumultuous (to put it nicely) stint with the Blazers, Raymond Felton continued to receive a steady stream of boos from the Moda Center faithful whenever he held the ball, checked in or out of the game, scored or really did anything of note. The reaction, of course, comes from the disastrous lockout-shortened 2011-12 season in which Felton showed up to training camp out of shape, played so poorly the team was forced to replace him in the starting lineup with not-point guard Jamal Crawford (much to Crawford’s dismay) and proceeded to help lead a mutiny on a seven year tenured head coach in only his first season with the team. Felton didn’t play poorly (9 points) but at this point the dedication from the fans is nice to see.
- He’s Still Just a Rookie. Zach Collins had maybe his best game of his young career so far, scoring 12 points off the bench to go with five boards and two blocks - including one big one in the final minute - to help seal the victory. Collins was efficient, going 5-6 from the floor and drilling both of his three point attempts, and looked poised in crunch time where was given a long run in the fourth quarter. He may still lack the strength of an NBA big, but his instincts and skill are undeniable. This kid has a future.
The Blazers will get a day off before traveling to Los Angeles to take on the surprisingly-hot Lakers Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. in a nationally televised game on NBA TV.