Despite having a combined 20 different players on the injury report, the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder were anything but a sight for sore eyes in a thrilling, back-and-forth overtime shootout on Monday night. At least five different players had “career nights” in this matchup of two injury-riddled franchises. Though, it would be the Thunder who rose as the last men standing before the 10-count, rallying back from a six-point deficit with 49.5 seconds left to force overtime, and ultimately, a 134-131 win.
For the Blazers, consider some of the statlines: a 27-point, 14-rebound, three-steal, two-block game from Drew Eubanks; a 28-point bench explosion from Ben McLemore; a 25-point, 12-assist, four-steal game from Brandon Williams, and six different players in double-figures, but no victory.
The loss drops Portland to 27-48, a mere ½ game ahead of Sacramento in the No. 12 spot. For a look at Timmay!’s instant analysis, have a look here. Below, we have a few observations.
No Stars? No Problem.
Outside of the state of Oregon and Oklahoma, there’s a legitimate chance there wasn’t a single household name that stepped foot on the Moda Center hardwood on Monday night. From a quality-of-game standpoint, that may not have been the worst thing ever.
That star-studded 2019 Western Conference First Round series between these two franchises may as well have been on tape delay or AOL dial-up, it feels that long ago. But, the youth movement on the floor led to about what you’d expect: ego-less offensive action at a frenetic pace, a display in 3-point marksmanship, and the off-the-side-of-the backboard misses.
For the Blazers, the first half, in particular, was one of inspiration. Their offense comes largely in two ways — dribble handoffs in the halfcourt and run as fast as you can after a miss in the full court — and both worked well. By halftime, they had double-digit 3-point makes for just the 14th time this season.
By game’s end, the Blazers’ ball movement provided them with 28 assists, tied for the eighth-most all year. They hit on 40 percent on 20 3-pointers, and, hard as it may be, scored 131 points on just nine free throws. The only caveat? The Thunder were putting it back through the net before the fans could start cheering.
The Perfect Game That Was:
For as spirited and gritty as this year’s version of the Trail Blazers have been, they haven’t been able to overcome the ghosts of years’ past when it comes to sustaining that level of play after halftime. The Blazers have lost 13 of their last 15 head-to-heads in the third quarter, a record that showcases itself in their -8.7 net rating in said quarters. In a game in which the Blazers led by three at the half, it felt as though the game would be decided on who came out of halftime: the Portland Trail Blazers or the South Dakota Trail Blazers? Fortunately, it was the former.
Unfortunately for them, tonight, it proved to be the fourth quarter that played them out of the game. These reps are invaluable for a young team, but the Blazers owned a 113-107 lead with 49.5 seconds left and lost this game. For the first 45-ish minutes, they seemed to have answers for every question on the Thunder’s pop quiz, until they didn’t. Overhelping, per usual, was a problem. Six different Thunder players hit at least two triples. Despite a gritty showing in overtime, the levee eventually broke.
Building His Brand:
After struggling through a tough five-game stretch in which he shot 27.7 percent on 13.0 shots, it wasn’t a matter of if, but rather when Brandon Williams would return to form. Portland lost the battle of which team could shut down the most players for the rest of the 2021-22 season, but Williams’ production ensured they wouldn’t lose the game.
The writing was on the wall after Williams hit on four triples in the first eight minutes of Monday’s game, but Williams put on the performance of a true point guard from start-to-finish in tonight’s game, with 25 points, 12 assists (a career-high), four rebounds, and four steals.
There was a noteworthy third-quarter stretch in which he was setting the table, rotating over from the weak side on defense and forcing steals — 6-foot-2 guards rotating over against forwards is generally a problem, but he made it work — and, save for one errant sidelines pass that somewhat iced the game, he maintained that poise throughout the entirety of tonight’s game. For a player not even 20 games into his NBA career, he’s had some gaudy across-the-board statlines, and tonight was no different.
McLemore’s March Madness and Eubanks’ Energy:
It’s been nearly a full decade since Ben McLemore reigned as the undisputed star of a team, but in carving out a role as the “old man” on a youthful Blazers team, he’s certainly become noteworthy. Despite the Blazers’ lack of raw, feared shot creators, the nine-year vet has proven adept at cutting, taking quick handoffs and rising up for 3-point buckets in a moments notice.
McLemore led tonight’s game with 28 points on eight 3-pointers, elevating him up to a ledger that reads as follows over his last seven games: 18.0 points per game on 39.3 percent from deep. McLemore anchored a Blazers bench that combined for 48 points, and he himself was the leader among six different Blazers to score in double-figures.
Among the starters, Drew Eubanks’ infectious energy stood out. There were — despite the loss — winning plays, and it makes sense that since he’s joined the Blazers, he’s No. 10 in the NBA in offensive rebounds.
THE D IN DREW STANDS FOR DUNK— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) March 29, 2022
DO NOT GOOGLE THIS pic.twitter.com/2AojdAskYV
There’s a relentlessness with which he attacks the glass, with Tyson Chandler-like back tap rebounds, or, when he times it right, aggressive follow-ups for a jam. For him, tonight’s performance was worthy of much note.
The Blazers get set to welcome in CJ McCollum and the New Orleans Pelicans for a Western Conference showcase on Wednesday, 7:00 pm PT.