Portland Trail Blazers (17-14) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (13-18)
The Portland Trail Blazers have to be sick about letting Monday’s game against the Thunder slip through their grasp. Oklahoma City is a team Portland would have expected to beat, but they could never break free from the Thunder’s grasp. A few sloppy plays in crunch time followed by a bucket from Gilgeous-Alexander as time expired consigned the Blazers to a 123-121 loss that Portland will be anxious to avenge.
Currently in 13th place in the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder don’t appear to be a team going anywhere this season. Still, the Thunder are the youngest team in the NBA, and young teams usually bring energy and a fearlessness that can be hard to beat if you aren’t at your best. One would think that the Blazers will be locked in for the rematch but the Thunder will be ready to pounce if Portland can’t stamp their authority on this game from the outset.
Trail Blazers vs. Thunder - Wednesday, December 21 - 5:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Gary Payton II (out), Nassir Little (out), Jusuf Nurkic (questionable), Damian Lillard (probable), Drew Eubanks (probable), Josh Hart (probable), Jerami Grant (probable)
Thunder injuries: Chet Holmgren (out), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (out), Ousmane Dieng (out), Josh Giddey (out), Darius Bazley (out)
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City
- Free throws. On Monday the Thunder shot 37 free throws compared to 21 for the Blazers. With that kind of disparity it’s pretty remarkable that the game came down to a buzzer beater. Blazers fans might well feel that this disparity was unwarranted, especially when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shot twice as many as anyone else in the game. Regardless, you have to control what is in your ability to control and the Blazers didn’t do that. It starts with defense. Play better defense and you will get fewer fouls called against you.
- Three pointers. The Blazers lead the NBA in three point percentage at 38.9%, but they are shooting seven fewer per game then they did in 2020-2021. That’s absolutely fine. When Portland’s offense is clicking this season they are using the three point line to punish defenses who spend too much of their time clogging the middle. Otherwise they are looking for easy buckets. It’s a work in progress, but this model is sustainable. They shot 43.2% against the Thunder on Monday. Look for them to be there or thereabouts again on Wednesday.
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Gilgeous-Alexander is having a fantastic season, averaging 31.3 points per game. He’s the undisputed star of the Thunder, and he’s playing like it. On Monday he poured in 35 points, made all 14 of his free throws and buried the buzzer beater to send Portland to defeat. Coach Billups might need to have his team do a bit more to slow him down. When a player is confident, they play like they are running downhill, and that’s when opponents foul. I’d expect the Blazers to throw a few defensive wrinkles at him to try to throw him off balance.
What Others Are Saying
JaydenRule of Welcome to Loud City looks at how and why Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is getting to the free throw line so often.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as a superstar this season and as we know, superstars get superstar calls. Over the last nine games, he is averaging an absurd 13.6 free-throw attempts a game and hitting them at an equally ridiculous 95.4%. Despite his underwhelming efficiency from the floor during this stretch, he has still been able to find ways to score points for his team.
Lots of love for Lillard from Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman.
Lillard has not publicly or privately manipulated the situation to force his way out of Portland. He’s the poster child of what you want as the face of a franchise. He’s what OKC hopes Shai Gilgeous-Alexander becomes, what Memphis hopes Ja Morant becomes, what Orlando hopes Paolo Banchero becomes. What Karl Malone and John Stockton became for Salt Lake City.
We love you Brooke!