The Trail Blazers surrendered a first half lead to fall to the Thunder 111-109. Portland’s offense did an excellent job of getting everyone involved in the first half, but Oklahoma City’s stingy defense set the tone down the stretch. Paul George and Russell Westbrook gave the Blazers fits, as the duo combined for 68 points in the victory. Five Portland players produced double-digit scoring nights, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a late deficit. Despite the loss, the Blazers did manage to give themselves a shot at victory in the final seconds of the game. Losses are never ideal, but it was a scrappy performance from the home team against a quality opponent.
Crisp Offense Fades Fast
The Blazers’ offense was crisp and nearly flawless through the first two quarters. Prior to halftime, Portland had connected on 52 percent of their shots from the field. Damian Lillard successfully navigated the Thunder’s aggressive defense to produce five assists in the first half. Off the bench, Turner recorded six assists over the same span. Both players found willing scorers in Jusuf Nurkic and Jake Layman. In seven minutes of action before halftime, Layman was active away from the ball. His movement on offense was rewarded by Portland’s facilitators, and he finished with nine points in his first shift.
Thanks in large part to the quartet of contributors mentioned above, the Blazers registered a season-high 18 first-half assists.
Unfortunately for Portland, the smooth sailing on offense came to an end in the second half. The Thunder’s increased defensive intensity was greeted by sloppiness from the Blazers. Late in the third quarter, Portland fell victim to a 10-2 run by Oklahoma City. During that two-minute stretch, the Blazers committed two turnovers, Al-Farouq Aminu was hit with a technical foul, and Meyers Leonard sent Dennis Schroder to the line on a clear-path violation.
Despite enduring a third quarter filled with miscues, Portland showed grit in the final period. After allowing George to torch the nets for 35 points through three quarters, he was held to just two points in crunch time.
Trailing by eight points with just over two minutes remaining, the Blazers rallied to get within a basket of drawing level. Thanks to an Aminu offensive rebound, both Lillard and CJ McCollum had an opportunity to tie the game with under 15 seconds on the clock.
The two-man game between Lillard and Nurkic opened up the entire court in the first half. The Thunder own the most opportunistic defense in the NBA, but the Blazers managed to commit only six turnovers prior to halftime. Oklahoma City paid extra attention to every pick-and-roll set the duo produced, which created favorable looks for Portland’s supporting cast. Individually, Nurkic continued to display patience in the post. If he keeps it up, opponents are going to have to start sending help.
Once again, Nurkic and Lillard were the two highest scorers for the Blazers. They combined for 45 of Portland’s 109 points.
Turner Takes Control
Turner did an excellent job finding open teammates throughout the contest. He finished with nine assists, and added six points of his own in 24 minutes of action.
McCollum’s January is already starting to look like his December. Through the first two games of the year, he has connected on just two of his 11 three-point attempts. McCollum ended the night with 10 points and five assists.
Aminu secured a stellar 16-point, 15-rebound double-double tonight. He has reached double-digits in his last three games.
Zach Collins was perfect from the field and free throw line. He finished with six points and four rebounds.
The Blazers will return to action on Saturday to face James Harden and the Rockets.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com