The Portland Trail Blazers hoped to make up for their tough game against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday with a relatively easy one against the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night. OKC had other plans. The Thunder didn’t play pretty. They didn’t even play that smart. They did commit to defense and they ran for quick scores when their slower-developing plays came up empty. Those two characteristics, plus beating out Portland in a couple of key categories, were enough to secure a 98-81 win for Oklahoma City.
If you missed the action, we have a sketch of it in our quarter-by-quarter recap. After you’ve seen that, here are other factors playing into the game and observations from it.
The Blazers hit four three-pointers in the first period. That’s a fairly modest number for them. As it turned out, it was a comparative bonanza. They’d hit only 3 the whole rest of the night. It wasn’t for lack of trying. 38 of their 81 shot attempts came beyond the arc. They just missed them all, finishing 7-38, 18.4% on threes for the game.
For all the talk about diversifying the offense this year, the three-point attack is still Portland’s calling card. It’s just about the only way their offense approaches elite status. When they can’t hit them, for whatever reason, the game gets hard.
The Thunder hit a dozen threes, by the way.
No Free Throws
It should come as no surprise that, with the Blazers bombing so much from deep, their free throws were almost nonexistent. They attempted 8 on the evening, hitting 6. That’s one of the reason—along with abysmal shooting—that Portland couldn’t outscore the worst offense in the league. Oklahoma City went 16-17.
Shooting 42.0% from the field, the Blazers weren’t going to amass a ton of assists. They managed 18 assists on 34 made shots, but many of those came late. For most of the game, isolation or botched shooting fouled up their passing attack. The more things change, they more they stay the same.
Zone defense good against Thunder
As we’ve chronicled here, Portland has been employing zone defenses on the regular to switch things up and cover their individual defensive deficiencies. Against teams with centers who can operate in the middle of the floor, it falls apart. Tonight it looked pretty good. When in their zone sets, the Blazers allowed OKC deep jumpers. The Thunder can’t hit them. Bingo. Recipe for success.
Jusuf Nurkic commanded double teams, as the Thunder big man corps couldn’t deal with him individually. He handled them pretty well, the difficulty coming when he had to spin or bull his way inside. Single-covered his moves looked solid. Throw an extra man in and he played like he was in between decisions. But just drawing extra attention speaks volumes about Nurk’s talent and his role on this team.
Faster Isn’t Better
For some ungodly reason, outrunning the Blazers has become an easy way to beat them. Oklahoma City beat Portland down the floor repeatedly in the second half. If they didn’t score on the break, they converted deep inside against token coverage that wasn’t set. The Blazers are younger than they were, and less injured than they were, earlier in the season. Getting beat down the floor is a real head-scratcher.
If Portland has another claim to fame besides three-point shooting, it’s grabbing offensive rebounds and keeping their opponents from same. Tonight the Thunder had 11 offensive boards, Portland 6. Nurkic did his part, grabbing 4. He couldn’t overcome the disparity alone.
Simons Goes Pfffffttt
It’s not fair to bag on Anfernee Simons after a Player-of-the-Month-type effort in January, but this was his least effective outing in a long time. He shot 3-16 from the field, 2-12 from distance, scoring 8 points with 2 assists and 2 turnovers. Even with CJ McCollum scoring 21 on 10-17 shooting, the Simons deficit left Portland in the 80’s.
Sometimes everything clicks and the Blazers look deep. Sometimes one thing goes awry and they seem as thin as edge-ways paper.
Fourth Quarter Blues
The Blazers played on the second night of a back-to-back tonight. Fatigue was probably an issue, particularly with them giving hefty minutes to starters in both games. But they haven’t been a good fourth-quarter team all year. It’s hard to watch winnable games slip farther and farther out of reach when it matters most. After building a large lead early, the Blazers posted a 20-33 final period, with the Thunder scoring inside again and again. Their hopes for victory dashed up against the rock of the worst offense in the league, which suddenly looked unstoppable.
Wednesday night the Blazers face the Los Angeles Lakers with a 7:30 PM start.