The Portland Trail Blazers almost blew it against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. And by “blew it,” we mean, “Messed around and got a win.” After a sloppy first quarter, Portland pressed hard on both ends in the middle frames, creating a 19-point lead in the fourth, and decisive, period. Then they proceeded to give it all back, one turnover and blown coverage at a time. When the smoke cleared, Portland’s dash for NBA Draft Lottery percentages continued unabated, courtesy of a 98-94, fall-back-from-ahead defeat.
Portland now owns a 27-52 record with 3 games remaining in their season. They have slipped below the Sacramento Kings for the 6th-worst record in the league and have a very small chance of catching the Thunder and Indiana Pacers in a tie for the 4th-worst. Practically speaking, though, we now pretty much know that the Blazers will finish in 6th, with an approximate 37% chance of winning a Top 4 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery.
If you missed the game, you can read our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’ve got that down. here’s the rest of the story.
The Blazers and Thunder spent the first half shooting in the 50-60% range from the field. You’d think this meant the offense was beautiful. It wasn’t. Instead, both teams seemed to take the approach, “If we dribble long enough, something will happen.” That was true, but was more because the defense turned their heads than because of any particular offensive prowess. Players pretty much took turns dribbling and jab-stepping, then tossing to a teammate to do same, then tossing it again until something worked.
The alternative to that “something working” approach was, well, the opposite. The number of botched passes, fumbled catches, and blocked iso shots in this game was prodigious. Aside from the occasional pretty jumper or breakaway NBA dunk, it looked like a YMCA league game. The teams combined for 34 turnovers, and a few probably went uncredited.
Over the last couple of weeks, Portland’s lack of a playmaking point guard has stood out. It was true tonight too. Forget plays stalling. Half of them were dead before they happened. The offense devolved into a series of drive-and-kicks, at best. There was little coordination, little confidence that the ball would move in the right direction off of motion.
Part of this was due to OKC’s defense. They weren’t that adept, but Portland’s offense is pretty basic. With a couple games against Portland under their belts, the Thunder knew what was coming. Portland didn’t have the resources to counter them out of it.
In the end, though, the Blazers lack credible ways to break the defensive shell on their initial move. That makes it hard to create the cracks that lead to uncontested shots and easy points.
Three to Be
The three-pointer is the constant, eternal counter to offensive woes. It makes those drive-and-kicks kickier, perimeter ball-swings swingworthy. Oklahoma City did a decent job of covering everything except the long ball. When the threes fell, Portland looked good. When they didn’t, not so much.
The Blazers shot 11-32, 34.4% from distance for the game. That percentage looked a lot better before they missed 9 deep shots in the fourth quarter. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly when, and how, the Blazers fell apart.
As up and down as the game had been, Portland still led by 19 in the fourth quarter. It took a simultaneous collapse of defense, rebounding, taking care of the ball, and most importantly, shooting, in order to make the loss happen. ALL of those things occurred at once. It was like the final scenes of a horror movie where you think the main character has finally escaped the Big Baddie, then all of a sudden he jumps out of the bushes and the screen goes dark. That’s pretty much what happened to Portland. Whether you like it or hate it depends on your rooting interest (lottery or victories), but dang...Portland just can’t win for losing right now.
The Blazers draw the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday evening with a 5:00, Pacific start.