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Thunder’s Role Players Arrive, Blazers Suffer Defeat in Game 3

Damian Lillard’s 32-point outburst was foiled by the Thunder’s supporting cast in the Blazers’ Game 3 loss.

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder delivered the Portland Trail Blazers their first loss in the 2019 NBA Playoffs with a 120-108 victory on Friday. Led by Russell Westbrook’s 33 points, the Thunder finally found their rhythm on offense. OKC’s role players rose to the occasion in front of their home crowd. Jerami Grant and Dennis Schroder combined to give Portland fits in Game 3. For the Blazers, Lillard reached 30 points for the second time in three games, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Thunder’s long list of contributors.

OKC was backed into the corner after two losses to open the series and they played like it in a crucial win that moved the series to 2-1.

Playoff Defense

The Thunder’s emphasis on defensive intensity was noticeable from the opening whistle. Their attempts to trap Lillard early in possessions were coordinated and successful. The added pressure forced the Blazers into 14 turnovers in the first half, which paved the way for coach Billy Donovan’s squad to find their stride on offense with easy looks.

OKC’s efforts culminated in a suffocating second quarter that saw Portland produce a paltry 17 points. There is a fine line between anticipating pressure and hurrying the ball into bad spots. Tonight, we saw the latter of those two on several occasions. CJ McCollum, Seth Curry and Lillard combined for nine of the Blazers’ 18 turnovers.

Home Crowd Boost

Westbrook’s 33 points will make the headlines, but it was the boost that the Thunder received from their tertiary players that made the difference on Friday. Every time Portland appeared to be in position to reclaim the lead, timely shooting from OKC’s supporting cast kept the margin intact.

Grant, who recorded two single-digit outings to open the series, exploded for 18 points. The former Sixers forward has improved his three-point shooting since entering the NBA and it showed on Friday. He connected on four of his five attempts from beyond the arc. Outside of Grant, Schroder did an excellent job of taking pressure off Westbrook on both ends of the court. Defensively, Schroder made Lillard work for everything. On the other end, he kept Portland’s defense off balance by generating points from all three levels.

Silver Linings

The Thunder’s outside shooting was bound to recover and it do so in a big way in Game 3. Despite OKC’s 51.7 percent three-point shooting, Portland remained within striking distance throughout the night. If the Blazers can clean up their turnovers and do a better job of alleviating the pressure Lillard faces when has the ball—there is a clear path to victory against a Thunder team that is shooting well.

Lillard endured a rough finish and produced only three points in the final period. Instead of differing to his teammates, he too often dribbled into trouble and searched for contact. Judging by the back-and-forth banter between Lillard and Westbrook in the game’s final moments, it is a safe bet that Dame will come out focused in Game 4.

Kanter Returns to OKC

After an awkward fall in Game 2, Enes Kanter returned to the court to provide efficient scoring. Kanter took advantage of the Thunder’s aggressive scheme aimed at stopping Lillard by carrying the Blazers’ offense from the interior in the fourth quarter. The big fella recorded 19 points in 29 minutes.

McCollum finished with 21 points, with 15 of them coming by way of three-pointers. His outside shooting was effective, but he failed to get his midrange game rolling.

Curry didn’t attempt a single field goal in his 15 minutes of action, but he did get to the line for three successful free throws.

Meyers Leonard’s eight points led the Blazers’ bench in scoring. He added three rebounds on top of his point production.

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The Blazers will face the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Sunday before returning to the Moda Center for Game 5.