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NBA Playoffs: Trail Blazers at Thunder Game 4 Preview

Portland could take a commanding 3-1 series lead with a win.

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

Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder (Series: 2-1 Portland)

Sunday April 21, 2019 - 6:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (out)
Thunder injuries: Hamidou Diallo (out), Andre Roberson (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, TNT
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City

Any hopes of a quick series evaporated after the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 120-108 in Oklahoma City. The Thunder rode shockingly efficient three-point shooting coupled with aggressive defense to pull out the win. The good news for the Blazers is that they stayed close for most of the game in spite of the crazy shooting from the Thunder. A few adjustments could have positive results, and it’s not unreasonable to think a regression to the mean in terms of shooting from beyond the arc for the Thunder is likely. The Blazers have every reason to be optimistic as they try to come home from Oklahoma City with a valuable win.

Key adjustments to watch for

  • The Blazers need to tighten up their three-point defense. After missing threes at an unprecedented rate in the first two games, the Thunder turned things around in a big way in Game Three. Oklahoma City went 15-for-29 from deep on Friday night, good for 51.7% and 45 points. It’s a difficult balance for the Blazers. On the one hand, you probably don’t want to chase Russell Westbrook off the three-point line completely (29% from deep for the season), nor Paul George at the moment (27.6% for the series). On the other hand, leaving guys wide open, any guys really, can have catastrophic results as we saw on Friday. The Blazers need to do a much better job closing out on players like Jerami Grant (39.2% for the season) and Terrance Ferguson (36.6%), while at the same time giving George and Westbrook enough room for them to start heaving — but not enough room to get comfortable. All while preventing paint penetration. Finding that balance will be key.
  • Fewer turnovers and fouls. Blazers fans are probably somewhat justified in asking how the Thunder shot 15 more free throws than the Blazers, but at the end of the day the Blazers didn’t control what they could control. At some point you have to realize how the game is being called and adjust. The Blazers failed to do that. Even more concerning is the 18 turnovers. It’s not just the number but also the circumstances of how many of them came about. Too often, the Blazers seemed content to rush into an obvious trap with no plan on how to get out of it. This resulted in bad passes and broken plays. Expect the Blazers to be better prepared for the high pressure the Thunder will certainly look to once again apply.
  • Better play from the role players. The Thunder won largely because their role players brought energy and made shots. The Blazers need that kind performance from the likes of Moe Harkless, Rodney Hood, Evan Turner and Seth Curry. Those four combined for 13 points and 8 turnovers. You can argue about what those four players brought to the table on Friday, and it wasn’t all bad in every case. Still, that many turnovers with so few points puts a huge burden on the stars. A double-digit performance from at least one of them along with fewer turnovers would go along way towards a Blazers victory.

What they’re saying

Eric Horne of the Oklahoman has the view of the game from the Thunder side, including that dunk at the end of the game by Paul George:

The dunk didn’t even count, waved off after the buzzer, but it served as a punctuation at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Back was the swaggering bunch that combines defensive tenacity with attitude bordering on arrogance.

Gabe Fernandez of Deadspin writes that the Thunder really enjoyed their flukey shooting night:

See, the Oklahoma City defeated Portland because the “score an absurd amount of your threes” strategy actually worked. The Thunder shot 15-for-29 (51.7 percent) from behind the arc in Game 3, a far cry from Games 1 and 2 where they shot a combined 10-of-61 (16.4 percent) from that same area of the court. Allowing that high-accuracy shooting in the postseason is a result of either poor defense, or horrendous luck. Regardless, seeing every shot your opponent takes from downtown go in has to be disheartening. Even worse, however, is when they really milk their celebrations as it happens.

In Oklahoma City and feeling hungry? Darren Rovell has a suggestion: