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Blazers Squander Stellar Start, Self-Destruct in OKC

Portland drops their second game in three nights to the Thunder, falling 101-98 behind another strong performance from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers sought to serve a healthy dish of revenge to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, two days after losing to the same team in heartbreaking fashion. Despite an excellent first quarter, that dish never made it out of the kitchen. The Blazers struggled to maintain any sort of offensive cohesion throughout the rest of the night, falling 101-98 at PayCom Center. Portland sits at 2-3 on their current road trip, with one game left to play.

While all five Blazers starters scored in double-figures, no one was able to eclipse the 20-point mark. Jerami Grant led the team with 17 points, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander once again put on a show for the Thunder with a game-high 27 points. He out-shot the entire Blazers team from the free-throw line in the process.

Box Score

For a quarter-by-quarter breakdown, see our Instant Recap. The following were the key storylines from Wednesday’s action.

Stellar Start, Sloppy Finish

It was largely forgotten by the final whistle, but the Blazers game out of the gates swingin’ to start the night. Their offense featured excellent, purposeful ball movement, with all five players touching the ball on the opening possession—resulting in a corner three from Grant. The team assisted on 11 of their 13 made field goals in the frame, with Josh Hart the leading man with nine early points. Defensively, they forced six OKC turnovers, stealing the ball four times to set up fast break opportunities.

Leading 32-22 after the first, the team failed to score at least 25 points in each of the final three quarters. Making matters worse, the Thunder caught fire from beyond the arc in the third quarter, after going just 2-9 in the first half. Turnovers were also a major issue, particularly down the stretch. Despite everything, the game was tight throughout. However, the Blazers failed to score after the 2:56 mark of the fourth quarter, as the Thunder finished on a 8-0 run. They also gave up two offensive rebounds on a key possession with under a minute remaining, and turned the ball over three times over a two-minute stretch in the final five minutes.

Damian Lillard, who had his second-lowest point total of the season with 16, missed three shots in the final two minutes. His miscue on a heavily-contested midrange jumper with three seconds remaining all but sealed Portland’s fate, as they were not yet in the bonus. Down 1, they had to commit two fouls, leaving just 0.3 seconds left after a pair of Gilgeous-Alexander free throws, and failed to get off a final shot in time.

Free Throw Disparity

Perhaps the biggest storyline from the game was the foul line disparity between the two teams. The Thunder finished the night 21-25 from the charity stripe with Gilgeous-Alexander going 11-13. The Blazers were 6-9 as a team, and had just two free throw attempts in the entire second half of the game.

Anfernee Simons had a particularly hard time avoiding the whistle, picking up his fourth personal foul with 7:18 remaining in the third quarter. His third foul, committed just seconds prior, came on a highly questionable offensive foul call. His fifth foul came in the final minute of the frame, forcing him to sit for much of the fourth quarter as the Blazers struggled to score.

Silver Lining

There were few positive takeaways from the game, but the bench unit deserves a tip of the cap for their performance. Drew Eubanks had four offensive rebounds in the first half, and also had three steals on the night. Shaedon Sharpe had a dynamic opening shift, scoring eight points in the first quarter, while Trendon Watford showed off his offensive versatility with a pair of impressive drives to the rim, and two offensive rebounds of his own. Keon Johnson hit a big three in the fourth quarter, pressed into action with Simons in foul trouble and Justise Winslow rolling his ankle at the end of the third.

In addition, Jusuf Nurkic returned from a one-game absence and had an efficient 5-7 shooting performance. He had an excellent stretch in the paint early in the second quarter against an undersized OKC lineup. However, the Thunder turned to the bigger Mike Muscala to start the second half in place of the ultra-slender Aleksej Pokusevski, and also started to double him on a number of his post-ups—limiting his effectiveness on the block.

Up Next

The Blazers (17-15) conclude their road trip in the Mile High City on Friday night against the Denver Nuggets. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. PT from Ball Arena.