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NBA Playoffs: Trail Blazers vs. Thunder Game 5 Preview

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The Moda Center will be rocking as the Blazers look to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

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NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (Series: 3-1 Portland)

Tuesday April 23, 2019 - 7:30 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

The Portland Trail Blazers were able to split the two games in Oklahoma City and are looking to close out the series at home on Tuesday. CJ McCollum (27 points) and Damian Lillard (24 points) led the way offensively in Portland’s 111-98 victory Sunday night. They were helped by Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless who chipped in some scoring of their own (19 and 15 points, respectively) to complement their consistently solid defense.

The Thunder are facing a first round elimination for the third year in a row. They did manage to win Game 5 of last year’s series with the Utah Jazz when they were facing a 3-1 series deficit. However, that game was in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have not won a playoff road game since Kevin Durant led them to a Game 2 victory over the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals.

Key adjustments to watch for

  • Keep the energy up. It can be tempting to get complacent with a 3-1 lead. The Blazers need to avoid doing so and play with the same energy and effort that has gotten them to this point. So far in the series, Portland has more rebounds, more steals, and more blocks than the Thunder. The effort of Portland’s defense has been a contributing factor to Oklahoma City’s poor shooting percentage in the series. Keeping that effort up for another 48 minutes will be key.
  • Get some contribution off the bench. If there is one area where Portland can improve in this series it would be the play of their bench. Portland’s bench has scored only 20.5 points per game in the series—the worst mark among playoff teams. The Blazer bench is also committing 5.7 turnovers per game. Zach Collins put in a good effort on Sunday, finishing with 10 points (becoming the first bench player to score in double figures for Portland in the series). Seth Curry hit a few shots in Games 1 and 2, but only scored 8 and 9 points, respectively. Rodney Hood leads the team in minutes off the bench. He has played well defensively but has only scored 16 points in 87 minutes. Getting some offensive production off the bench would go a long way in easing the burden carried by Lillard and McCollum.
  • Continue to defend the paint. One key for Portland has been keeping Oklahoma City from scoring inside. Russell Westbrook is capable of wrecking havoc inside with his athleticism. In the Thunder’s Game 3 win, he scored several times at the rim. In Game 4, the Blazers forced him (or baited him) into settling for jumpers. Paul George did not have particularly efficient games in Oklahoma City (shooting a combined 11-for-37 from the field for 29.7 percent), but the Thunder’s other star did a good job of driving and and getting to the line. After shooting 10 free throws combined in Games 1 and 2, George shot 17 and 14 in Games 3 and 4. The Blazers need to continue their aggressive defense while cutting back on the fouls

What they’re saying

Royce Young of ESPN examined Portland’s focused response to the trash talking of Game 3:

Once again, Lillard and McCollum outplayed the Thunder’s two stars, with Paul George finishing with 32 points on 8-of-21 shooting, while Russell Westbrook had only 14 points on 5-of-21 shooting. Westbrook started hot, hitting a couple of 3-pointers early, and a pull-up jumper over Lillard in the first quarter. After he hit it, Westbrook stuck out his tongue and shot a look at the Portland bench. He was more restrained as well, but that might have had more to do with the fact he didn’t have many more opportunities to talk.

J.A. Sherman of Welcome to Loud City discussed Portland’s run to end the first half of Game 4:

The end of the first half was a microcosm of everything that has made this year’s Thunder both tantalizing yet so disappointing. The teeth of their defense had sunk into the Blazers, and with 2:31 remaining after a Westbrook three, the Thunder were sitting on a 7 point lead, similar to game 3. But despite holding Portland to only 13 points on 5-19 shooting in the quarter, and with the Thunder themselves outshooting them and hitting 4-7 from three, OKC’s focus fell off a cliff. They turned the ball over twice and Westbrook missed three consecutive contested shots with nary a pass mixed in, and a struggling Blazers squad rolled off 11 unanswered points to take a 4 point lead into the half. It was an astonishingly inept — and yet familiar — ending to a half where OKC, despite shooting reasonably well, could not string together any sort of competent offense that looked something other than street pick-up ball.

Rohan Nadkarni of SI.com’s The Crossover wrote that Damian Lillard is highlighting Russell Westbrook’s flaws:

Game 4’s juxtaposition of Lillard and Westbrook more or less tells the story of most of this series. Westbrook has had flashes of brilliance, but his fiery attitude has covered up another comically inefficient postseason, and the Thunder are now at risk of flaming out in the first round for the third straight season. Lillard, on the other hand, has been steadier, and his overall game is much more suited to withstand stretches of struggles. The way the guards games have diverged not only helps illustrate why Portland is up 3–1, but how they’ve each responded to their own embarrassing first-round losses last season.