Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Playoffs series between the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder is upon us. We’ve examined the stats from several angles. We’ve talked about key plays and shared plenty of impressions. We’ve heard from national odds-makers, television analysts, and explored what’s at stake for the Blazers, and previewed the first game. This afternoon at 12:30, Pacific the ball will tip and we’ll see what it all amounts to.
As we while away the hours before the first playoffs Game Day Thread goes up, here are some last-minute thoughts on the game and the series.
- The first game of this series is critical for Portland. Though they’re the 3rd seed, an 0-4 regular-season series and the absence of Jusuf Nurkic make them de facto underdogs. That’s not even factoring in the consistent lack of playoffs success from a team that regards consistency as an asset. The Blazers MUST win Game 1. If they don’t, they’ll lose more than homecourt advantage. No amount of cliché pledges afterwards will make up for it.
- If Paul George cannot play (or even cannot play at full strength), the Blazers switch to the favorites in the series. George has had an out-sized effect on the matchup between the two teams this year. If he’s not a huge threat, the Thunder become much more dependent on Russell Westbrook, giving Portland a singular target and side of the floor to focus on. Portland’s defenders can stay closer to their ancillary shooters as well. That would be a serious swing. George’s health/effectiveness is THE storyline going into this game.
- The Thunder have long, rangy defenders. They’ve blunted Portland’s offensive efficiency all year, causing the Blazers to rely more on heavily-defended shots from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Lillard and McCollum will always be Portland’s leading scorers, but overall team percentage matters too. If Portland can’t edge OKC in effective field goal percentage, this will be a tough series.
- Take everything in that last paragraph and magnify it a million-fold for three-point shooting.
- The Blazers cannot lose containment in the middle, on corner threes, or in transition. Enes Kanter has got to body up Steven Adams and provide boards. Portland’s interior defense has to be good enough to allow wings to get out to the arc. Meanwhile everybody needs to get back to keep OKC from running up the score. All of this will take energy. Portland will need to fight foul trouble and fatigue.
- God help the Blazers if Kanter can’t move his feet defending screens. He better score 24 then, or this could turn into an instant disaster.
- The other big danger point is turnovers. Whether scoring in isolation or zipping passes to shooters, the Blazers need to watch out for Oklahoma City’s length and nose for the ball. Portland doesn’t commit many turnovers in the normal course of things. The Thunder are the best in the league at forcing them. The Blazers don’t have to be perfect, but they have to keep the margin reasonable.
Go ahead and share your anticipatory thoughts below. Everyone will be on pins and needles until the ball goes in the air. Might as well talk about it together!
Enjoy Game 1, and Go Blazers!