The Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard had a chance to avenge Monday’s heartbreaking loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Lillard even fired off a last-second chance to take the lead in an almost-identical scenario to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s game-winner that spoiled Lillard’s record-setting night. But instead of memorable heroics, Lillard’s contested elbow fader didn’t touch rim and the Blazers fell on the road again 101-98.
Jerami Grant led the team with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Lillard got off to a slow start and finished with 16 points and 8 assists. Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 27 points and 6 rebounds.
With the “how do you do’s” already out of the way, both sides needed little adjustment time to get right back into the swing of things from Monday. Oklahoma City had found gold in the hills of driving it to the rack in the previous matchup and immediately doubled-down on that tactic tonight. Josh Giddey — who did not play Monday — jumped right into the party, getting the Thunder on the board with a pair a transition buckets at the rim and it looked like the Blazers had their work cut out for them.
But like a veteran team, the Blazers countered with smart basketball, slowing down the pace and relying on patience and ball movement to neutralize some of OKC’s length and youthful energy. Seven different Blazers scored in the period (even more surprising, Dame was not one of them) and it felt like just about everybody wearing a Portland jersey was involved one way or another.
With Thunder defenders all out of sorts trying to chase the Blazers as they shuffled around the half-court like a slide puzzle, Josh Hart was the primary beneficiary of the chaos. Hart was a perfect 4-4 from the floor in the quarter and led the way with 10 points as Portland started to build a lead. Shaedon Sharpe came off the bench and coolly knocked down a pair of threes, and Drew Eubanks — back to his reserve role — checked in and immediately threw down an alley-oop tomahawk from the weak side.
More so than any point in Monday’s contest, things were trending Blazers and they were able to seize a 32-22 lead after one.
A pair of buckets from Nurkic to open the quarter gave Portland a 14-point lead, but it was rough sailing the rest of the way. OKC proceeded to go on a 8-0 run over the next three minutes led by Giddey, who continued to punish the Blazers in the open floor. A baseline dunk from Eubanks off a pocket pass from Lillard helped the stop the bleeding, but any hopes for burying the Thunder early were gone. Portland would have to earn it.
Lillard started to get his own scoring back on track with 9 points in the period, but had to work hard to get them. OKC essentially fielded a NBA 2K lineup with five rangy, athletic, switchable defenders who had all eyes fixated on Lillard whenever he sniffed the basketball. It was enough to fend off, but not outduel Gilgeous-Alexander, who came alive down the stretch and scored 10 of the Thunder’s final 14 points. His length and shot-creation gave the Blazers fits. Portland has strength and even some length of its own to throw at him, but when a player can just rise up and shoot a 15-footer over a defender, much of that is negated.
The Blazers still held onto a lead, but momentum trended OKC heading into the break 54-49.
After Anfernee Simons and Jalen Williams traded long-balls to open the third, both teams went a tad three-point happy to little success, going a combined 0-5 over the next four minutes. The ugly spell was broken by a straightaway triple from Nurkic, which began really the only positive stretch for Portland in the period. Justise Winslow knocked down a rare three from the angle and then Lillard connected on a 29-footer which gave the Blazers a 10-point lead at 70-60.
But the Thunder responded with yet another back-breaking run, outscoring Portland 16-4 over a four-minute stretch behind Gilgeous-Alexander, who continued to play like Portland took his gift at the white elephant exchange.
To make matters worse, at the 1-minute mark, Winslow came down on the foot of Kenrich Williams on a rebound attempt and rolled his ankle. He was slow to get up and looked to be in pain as he exited the game and was helped to the locker room.
Another alley-oop finish from Eubanks tied the game at 78-78 heading into the final frame.
Portland was their own worst enemy for much of the fourth. After a pair of Trendon Watford baskets near the rim, the Blazers suddenly couldn’t keep their hands on the ball. Nurkic and Keon Johnson both committed errant passes and Josh Hart was called for a charge after barreling out of control into an OKC defender.
For every move that Portland made the Thunder countered. A Williams layup with 1:30 remaining gave OKC a 99-98 lead, and while Lillard and the Blazers had several opportunities to regain the advantage, Portland couldn’t will much of a solid look the rest of the way. Dame’s fader with 3 seconds remaining was about as ill-advised as one could remember from one of the game’s masters of clutch.
The Thunder held on the rest of the way and walked out with another last-minute victory.
Stay tuned for our extended recap coming soon!
The Blazers will get on a plane and head west to take on the Denver Nuggets Friday evening at 6 p.m. Pacific.