The Portland Trail Blazers turned to the familiar faces of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to secure a crucial Game 2 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday. The Thunder came out with pace and purpose in the first half, but Portland weathered the storm long enough to dictate the action. For the second game in a row, both Paul George and Russell Westbrook endured extended cold steaks as the Blazers built leads. A Lillard-led explosion in the third quarter compounded the Thunder’s issues, leaving coach Billy Donovan’s squad in a double-digit hole when the fourth quarter arrived.
The Blazers have cleansed themselves of last year’s poor postseason and head to Oklahoma City with a 2-0 advantage.
The postseason tends to slow to a grind, but that was far from the case in the first half. Westbrook was the early benefactor in the early stages of the contest. From finding open teammates to getting favorable looks before the Blazers’ defense set, the former MVP looked like he was in for a big game. Outside of Westbrook, Steven Adams and George found success in their respective matchups. OKC went to Adams early, and the big fella recorded six points on four shots in the first quarter.
Even without his outside shot falling, George looked comfortable on offense. It still didn’t save him from falling victim to Moe Harkless’ defense, but he did connect on 3-4 shots from inside the arc in the first quarter. The Blazers looked a little tight at the start, but only fell behind 31-25 in the opening period.
First Shift Struggles
Outside of Zach Collins, the Blazers’ second unit produced troublesome results in the first half. The Thunder did their homework on Evan Turner’s post game and have responded with extra help when he backs smaller opponents into the paint. Turner’s first two looks from inside resulted in a blocked shot and a steal. Seth Curry and Rodney Hood were unable to provide an alternative on offense—resulting in a listless first half for both wing players. OKC used Portland’s lack of supplemental scoring to build a nine-point lead in the second quarter.
The Blazers’ starting backcourt returned to erase the deficit, but that didn’t change the paltry eight points that the second unit produced before heading to the locker room.
Portland’s pre-halftime rally created enough momentum to carry the action through the final two quarters. Lillard and McCollum feasted on the Thunder’s defense in a variety of ways. McCollum consistently shed his defender by using screens and crafty moves off the dribble. It didn’t matter if it was second-year guard Terrance Ferguson or George guarding him, McCollum found his shots with little resistance.
For Lillard, he transferred his defensive success to firepower on offense. For in-game antics, this might have been Dame’s most expressive game. In one sequence, he stripped Westbrook, forced him into a three-pointer, and turned Russell’s miss into a three-pointer of his own on the other end. When he wasn’t demoralizing the Thunder’s defense from outside, he routinely finished through contact at the rim to maintain the Blazers’ lead.
Next Man Up
Enes Kanter’s night was shortened due to foul trouble and a nasty fall in the second quarter. Collins looked like a capable replacement in the first half, but it was Meyers Leonard who stole the show in crunch time. Leonard’s defensive effort was superb. His size gave OKC trouble in the paint and he held his own when he found himself switched on to the perimeter.
Offensively, the space created by Leonard’s screens were noticeably bigger—paving the way for favorable shots from his teammates. Leonard’s three-point shooting made a brief appearance when the Thunder left him alone to aggressively double Lillard on a pick-and-pop set in the fourth quarter.
The big fella finished with five points and four rebounds in 15 minutes of action.
Curry Heats Up
The Blazers extended their second-half lead thanks to timely shooting from Curry. After a silent opening shift, he connected on three of his four attempts from beyond the arc. Curry recorded nine points in 18 minutes.
One blemish from Portland’s victory was the tentative performance from Rodney Hood. He missed all five of his three-point attempts and passed on a pair of open looks in the second half. On the positive side, he was active and engaged on defense.
Harkless rose above foul trouble to make an impact for the second game in a row. Defensively, he was an absolute menace when contesting shots. On the other end, he made himself available when the Thunder’s defense closed in on the Blazers. Harkless finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
The Blazers return to action in Oklahoma City on Friday. Facing a potential 3-0 series deficit in front of their home crowd—the Thunder should come out hungry for a win.