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NBA Playoffs: Trail Blazers vs. Thunder Game 2 Preview

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The Blazers and Thunder meet up in the second clash of their first-round playoff series.

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NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (Series: 1-0)

Tuesday, April 16 - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (out)
Thunder injuries: Andre Roberson (out), Hamidou Diallo (out)
How to watch on TV: NBC Sports Northwest, TNT
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City

The Portland Trail Blazers took Game One against the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-99. Damian Lillard scored 30 points alongside four rebounds, four assists, and three steals to lead the way for Portland. Backcourt mate CJ McCollum added 24 points and six rebounds. Enes Kanter came out with something to prove, logging 20 points and 18 rebounds. On the defensive end, both Maurice Harkless (there blocks, one steal) and Al-Farouq Aminu (three blocks) had remarkable performances. The win marked Portland’s first in the postseason since 2016.

The Oklahoma City Thunder struggled to keep up in Game One against the Trail Blazers. Despite injury issues, Paul George led Oklahoma City with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and four steals, while Russell Westbrook continued his tear of triple-doubles with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. George struggled with fouls, ultimately fouling out at the end of the game. Steven Adams had 17 points alongside nine rebounds. The Thunder proved to be pesky on offense, coming back again and again over the course of the game, but they ultimately fell short.

Key adjustments to watch for

  • Defend the perimeter. The Trail Blazers struggled at points to close out on Paul George, allowing him open looks at the three-point line. That can’t happen if the Blazers want to win this series. Fortunately, he shot 27 percent from the arc. That said, it is unlikely to happen again should George continue to play.
  • Manage turnovers. The Blazers had 18 turnovers, two more than the competition. The fact that the Thunder had 16 turnovers certainly alleviated some of the pressure, but they could have been silenced sooner had the Blazers better handled the ball.
  • Maintain energy. Portland allowed Oklahoma City to pull within four about halfway through the third quarter, which became a pattern during the second half: the Blazers would get ahead, then the Thunder would catch up, then the Blazers would fight back. The Thunder ended up within one with 2:44 to go in the game, but Damian Lillard sank a much-needed three to shift momentum. Managing the speed and pace of the game, as well as the level of energy on the court, is something the Blazers need to focus on to secure the next win.

What they’re saying

Royce Young of ESPN explores the issues Paul George faces while being the center of the Thunder’s offense and dealing with a shoulder injury:

The Thunder have other quality pieces and are at their best when there’s balance, but George is the fulcrum of their offense. Westbrook is the engine, George is the accelerator. It’s no secret the Thunder aren’t a great shooting team, but George can single-handedly elevate them to being one. Westbrook was relentless and admirably stubborn in the way he hunted shots for George on Sunday, and at some point, the Thunder have to believe they will fall.

Erik Horne of the Oklahoman examines how Russell Westbrook altered his performance on the court to compensate for aspects of the Thunder’s offense and the Blazers’ defense:

Otherwise, Westbrook was in a mode offensively the Thunder would be happy with for the remainder of the series. When Enes Kanter stayed glued to Steven Adams to prevent lobs, Westbrook didn’t settle for mid-range shots or 3-pointers, instead keeping his dribble to get to the rim easily.

It was a far cry from Westbrook hoisting 19 3-point attempts in a closeout game against Utah last April.

J.A. Sherman of Welcome to Loud City elaborates on how George’s cold shooting contributed to the loss:

The big question mark coming out of game 1 is the struggles of Paul George. The Blazers used an effective trapping system that we have seen other teams deploy, and they have the personnel to do it with the likes of Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. George seldom found space to operate, which led to 4 turnovers, 6 fouls disqualifying him, and a lot of frustration. However, this defense was coupled with some horrific shooting from George, who could never find the range until late. Through three quarters, he was 5-19 from the floor and 2-11 from three, many of them open misses.