The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight 108-96, failing to top 100 points behind a barrage of contested misses out of their isolation-heavy offense. Fouls, guard defense, and three-point shooting all failed Portland on a night when Oklahoma City didn’t play that well, but looked much better than the home team. With this loss, Portland drops to 9-15 on the season, 4-6 in the once-impregnable Moda Center.
The action was back-and-forth in the early going. Hassan Whiteside opened up the game with an inside two-pointer. An early foul from Kent Bazemore gave Oklahoma City its first scoring opportunity. While the Thunder managed a fast break, they weren’t able to score and Carmelo Anthony snagged the rebound, but the Blazers fouled to send Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the line. CJ McCollum evened the game with a pull-up jumper, but the Thunder responded. Kent Bazemore clapped back with a pair of threes that shifted the momentum and allowed the Blazers to tie the game 10-10. Danilo Gallinari scored a bucket for the Thunder, but Anthony cleaned up his own miss through strong defense to score for the Blazers in response. Then the Thunder took the lead again, keeping it due to fouls. Buckets from Mario Hezonja and Damian Lillard reinvigorated the Blazers. Oklahoma City led after one 21-20.
McCollum came out firing to start the second quarter but he was outdone (and then some) by Chris Paul, who hit threes, fade-aways, and pretty much every kind of shot known to humankind. When Dennis Schroeder chimed in, the Blazers fell behind by double digits. This might have been expected against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night, but the feeling permeating the arena as the scoreboard read 43-29, Thunder was sheer discomfort. It was like thinking you might have broccoli stuck between your teeth, then finding out it was a booger. Damian Lillard and Kent Bazemore helped fuel a comeback late in the half, assisted by a bit of defense from Hassan Whiteside. Oklahoma City still led 55-47 at intermission.
Lillard came alive early in the third with a couple of three-pointers. That started a run of made shots for the Blazers that pulled them back even. Oklahoma City found success working the ball inside, either scoring directly or feasting on offensive rebounds. Things calmed down as the teams see-sawed through the period, but OKC maintained an 82-78 lead headed into the fourth.
The fourth quarter opened with both teams shooting like they were staring directly into the sun. They combined for more rim shots than a Henny Youngman video. The lid came off the rim at the 9:00 mark as Portland began to hit in isolation sets while the Thunder ran successful pick and rolls.
What the Blazers lacked in shooting prowess they made up for in fouls. Their bench guards couldn’t go ten seconds without drawing a whistle. Opposing free throws did their usual bad work as the period progressed. Even when the Blazers were scoring and the Thunder were missing, the deficit didn’t shrink. When Oklahoma City finally hit a couple threes late, their modest 5-point gap ballooned to 11. Lillard tried to resurrect his team’s hopes by firing contested threes. No dice. Portland scored only 18 in the final period and fell convincingly to the visitors from OKC.
The Blazers did do a few things right. They had a rebounding problem mid-game which they corrected (for the most part) down the stretch. Nassir Little and Kent Bazemore had some strong defensive plays. Hassan Whiteside accumulated 5 blocks and helped keep Steven Adams on the ropes.
Portland just couldn’t overcome their lack of scoring from isolation heroes. Carmelo Anthony shot 4-18 tonight, Lillard 8-24, and McCollum 8-21. For those counting, that’s 20-66 shooting, or 30.3%, from the three guys Portland depends on to set up the offense.
The rest of the team looked better. Players outside the Big 3 shot 16-34. They didn’t get enough shots to matter.
The shooting stats get even worse beyond the arc. The Blazers shot 9-33 as a team. Lillard went 2-12. The Lillard-McCollum-Anthony trio combined for 5-23 from deep. 21.7% on the shots that count most isn’t going to get it done.
Anthony’s offense was particularly hard to watch tonight. His contested jumpers looked tantalizing, but like Christmas snow, they just weren’t falling. He made the Blazers much easier to defend.
When the Blazers were winning early in the season, Lillard was shooting 50% from the floor and near that from arc. Nobody expected him to keep up those amazing numbers, but it’s worth noting he’s now shooting 45% from the floor and 36.2% from distance. That’s on the high end of average. The Blazers need him to be otherworldly if they’re going to have a chance. It’s not happening many nights anymore.
Portland also gave up a 27-15 edge to OKC in made foul shots. Sigh.
Three Oklahoma City guards topped 20 in this game too. Double sigh.
The Blazers will welcome the New York Knicks on Tuesday night at 7:00, Pacific in a game even they can’t lose.