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Paul George Outshines Lillard, McCollum as Thunder Beat Blazers

Portland brought plenty of guard power into the matchup, but Oklahoma City had a trump card.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, and CJ McCollum combined for 94 points as the Portland Trail Blazers took on the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game that often looked more NBA2k19 than straight NBA. But all those shining stars got eclipsed by the Super Blood Wolf Moon that was Paul George. Oklahoma City’s All-Star forward brought Armageddon raining down on the Blazers from tip to buzzer, providing 36 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals, and game-changing defense. George’s consistent magnificence overcame Portland’s intermittent backcourt supernovae, leading the Thunder to a 123-114 victory.

The Skinny

Though guards would eventually dominate the game, the Blazers opened the game firing on one cylinder (named Jusuf Nurkic). Looking a bit fatigued, they surrounded the Bosnian Beast with turnovers, missed shots, and so-so defense. Oklahoma City had similar issues. Paul George went crazy, but his teammates missed annoyingly open shots. That and a strong offensive showing by Portland’s bench saved the Blazers from getting destroyed in the first half. Still, they didn’t defend screens well and they couldn’t close out on three-point shooters. Portland got in a few long strikes of their own, but OKC still had better looks and the upper hand. The Thunder led 62-55 at the half.

CJ McCollum blistered through a third-quarter scoring streak to set up a tight final frame. Damian Lillard absolutely torched the Thunder in the fourth, cornering in the lane like a Formula-1 racer against NASCAR defenders. Though effective, Portland’s emphasis on guard scoring kept ball movement predictable...the inverse of their first-half attack. Ultimately the Thunder sent extra defenders against Lillard and Portland struggled. The Blazers couldn’t return the favor on the other end. They put up a good fight, but the edge clearly belonged to OKC.

CJ McCollum Bounces Back

Concern mounted last night as McCollum only scored 14 points on 6-17 shooting in the victory over the Utah Jazz. However, he responded with a 31-point outing tonight, 21 of which came in the third quarter. He accounted for seven of the team’s 10 made three-pointers and single-handedly kept the game within reach through the initial 12 minutes of the second half. He and Lillard finished with a combined 65 points, a significant upgrade of their combined 33 points in Portland’s last matchup versus Oklahoma City.

A Nurkic and Leonard Lineup?

Early in the fourth quarter, head coach Terry Stotts subbed Nurkic in for Zach Collins, creating a lineup that featured Nurkic and Meyers Leonard. The duo of wide-framed big men struck fear into the Thunder guards’ hearts as they met at the peak of the three-point arc on consecutive possessions, setting screens that supplied Lillard enough room to take an open three-pointer or drive to the hoop. In those three minutes of screening mayhem, the Blazers put together a 9-4 run that slimmed the double-digit deficit.

Nurkic continues his trash talk saga

Riding the momentum of a memorable third quarter against the Jazz yesterday, Nurkic agitated Jae Crowder AND Rudy Gobert simultaneously, leading to both players receiving technical fouls within two minutes of each other. Tonight, he and Westbrook enjoyed a few conversations with each other, including an odd sarcastic-laugh battle.

Westbrook had the last laugh, though, as he threw down two monstrous dunks in the final 90 seconds to secure their victory.

Too Many Turnovers

Over the last 10 games, the Blazers are tied with the Indiana Pacers for least turnovers committed at 11.4 per game. Tonight, they turned it over 19 times and only recorded 21 assists. Paul George, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, pestered Blazers guards around screens and collected five steals. The Thunder execute well in transition, so Portland’s high number of turnovers played right into OKC’s hands. Poor passing and ball control can be attributed to fatigue from the second game of a back-to-back, as well as the Thunder’s swarming defense.

Carmelo Anthony Rumors Rage

Tonight, Portland’s starting wings combined for four points on 1-11 shooting. Al-Farouq Aminu, in 31 minutes, scored four points on 1-7 shooting, missing all five of his three-point attempts. Moe Harkless, clearly still bothered by his lingering knee issue, recorded zero points on 0-4 shooting in 18 minutes.

As Carmelo Anthony likely will become a free agent soon, rumors linking him to Portland are flaring up. The team needs offense from its wings, but is he worth the cost of losing Harkless or Aminu’s defensive abilities? Their performances tonight fuel those in favor of bringing the veteran to the Northwest for an offensive kick start.

CJ McCollum Climbs Team Leaderboards

On a night in which he knocked down seven triples, McCollum passed Nicolas Batum for fourth all-time on the Blazers three-point field goals made list. He has made 749 threes for the franchise, trailing third-place Terry Porter by 24.

His seven threes, five of which came in the third quarter, mark his most in a game this season and ties a career high. The team needs this offensive production from him on a more consistent basis to compete with their elite Western Conference rivals.

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The Blazers travel to Phoenix for a matchup with the Suns on Thursday.

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