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Why the Trail Blazers Couldn’t Quell the Thunder

Portland should have had an easy march to victory in OKC. Here’s what happened.

Portland Trail Blazers v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers went into Monday night’s game in high spirits. They had a dominant win over the Rockets in their last matchup and a superstar just 21 points away from the franchise scoring record. The last thing they expected was to be deadlocked in an intense matchup with the 13th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder that ended in a 123-121 heartbreak.

The Blazers were lead by the new big man on campus Damian Lillard who finished with 28, and Jerami Grant who chipped in 26 of his own.

The Thunder did it by committee with only one player scoring more than 14 points. That player was well above the mark, as 35 from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander showed why he is third in the league in points per game.

For a quarter-by-quarter breakdown check out our instant recap.

Here are some takeaways from the buzzer-beating loss.

Foul Disparity

The Blazers shot better from both the three point line and the field than the Thunder. They also grabbed more offensive rebounds. So where did the Thunder make up all those points? The free throw line. The Blazers had 28 fouls this contest, which led to a 37-21 disparity in free throw attempts in the favor of the Thunder. Gilgeous-Alexander made all 14 of his opportunities. The whistle seemed to take the wind out of the sails of a Blazers team that couldn’t seem to gain momentum on defense.

Sloppy Play Down The Stretch

The Blazers played a relatively clean game for the majority of the night, with nine turnovers through the first three quarters of action. That all changed in the fourth quarter. They turned it over seven times in the final quarter. That all was accentuated by a miscommunicated inbounds play late that took an easy play and turned it into a chance to take the lead for the Thunder. After a basket on that possession, Lillard tried to push his way to the bucket, and turned it over instead. The Blazers had the game in the palm of their hand, but just could not put it away due to unforced errors and sloppy play.

Defense On Dame

In the middle of the third, all eyes were on Damian Lillard. With their superstar one point away from the franchise record, every Blazers fan was on the edge of their seat making sure not to miss history. History was delayed by a few minutes thanks to the stifling defense of the Thunder. The Thunder overcommitted on Dame, trying to make the other guys beat them. Kenrich Williams effectively denied Lillard the ball for a couple minutes. That was just a microcosm of the game as a whole.

Despite being the 13th seed, the Thunder are well equipped with wing defenders almost lab created to make life difficult for the Lillards of the world. Luguentz Dort started out the game on Lillard and didn't allow him easy looks to start. Lillard ended up with an efficient 28 regardless of the defense, but the Thunder made him give up the ball more than he wanted to, which limited the amount of scoring chances he got.

Hart Showed Heart

Josh Hart showed just why he is so valuable to this Blazers team. He finished the night with a stuffed stat sheet of 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. However, that doesn't tell the full story. He did what he does best throughout the game. He dove for loose balls. He fought for those boards. He took hits in stride. There were two different moments where Hart took a hit, got up grimacing, and kept on trucking. Those moments exemplify who he is as a player. He is going to do whatever needs to be done to win. He makes plays not just on offense or defense, but in the trenches. He didn't end up with a steal for his efforts tonight, but his grit was on full display.

Missing Nurkic

The lack of Jusuf Nurkic was felt throughout this contest. The Blazers still outrebounded the Thunder despite missing the 12th best rebounder in the league. However, his absence was felt around the rim. The Blazers couldn’t seem to defend the interior, allowing the Thunder to parade to 56 paint points, plus many of their free throws coming from fouls by the rim. With the trio of Justise Winslow, Drew Eubanks, and Trendon Watford combining for 14 fouls between them, the inability to defend the paint without fouling, or the fear of fouling, cost the Blazers greatly.

No Momentum

The Blazers could not seem to get any sort of momentum throughout this contest. Between constant whistles stopping the flow of the game, turnovers on offense, and an answer from the Thunder at every turn, the Blazers seemed to be treading water for much of the evening. When playing teams at the bottom of the standings, it is important to not let them dictate momentum. The Thunder have caught many teams sleeping, thinking they have an easy win. The Blazers seemed to fall into the trap. They allowed a very early ten-point lead to slip away and never built a significant lead after that. They allowed the Thunder to answer them at every turn, and never put together a significant enough stretch to take control of a game against an opponent much lower in the standings.

Up Next

Box Score

The Trail Blazers have a night off in Oklahoma City before taking on the Thunder one more time for their fifth straight game on the road. Tip off is 5:00 PM, Pacific on Wednesday.