In the midst of a chaotic week, filled with trades, complaints, and intrigue, the Portland Trail Blazers had a game to play on Friday night, facing off against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the friendly confines of the Moda Center. The contest featured the debut of brand new forward Cam Reddish, obtained in a deadline-week trade for starting small forward Josh Hart. Reddish slid into Hart’s starting lineup spot in his first outing, an offense tour de force from both sides.
The first three quarters of the game featured both teams scoring freely, without a care in the world or any sense of propriety for league records. Oklahoma City continued that in the fourth period. The Blazers, sadly, did not. Though Portland’s offense was on full display, their defense was nowhere to be found, leading to a 138-129 win for Oklahoma City.
Damian Lillard scored 38 in the game, shooting 10-18 from the floor, 6-13 from the arc, and 12-13 at the free throw line. But he was outdone by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who netted 44 on 13-16 shooting with 18 of 19 free throws made. Jerami Grant had his best game in a while, with 23 points. Reddish had 11 points and 2 rebounds in his first game in his new uniform.
The teams both shot over 55% from the floor. Oklahoma City hit 40% of their threes, the Blazers 50%. They combined for 61 made free throws on 66 attempts. If you liked offense, this was the game for you.
20 turnovers helped doom the Blazers, as did a whopping 70 points allowed to Oklahoma City in the paint.
New recruit Cam Reddish lost no time in making his presence known, converting a layup and hitting a three-pointer in the first 100 seconds of the game, staking Portland to a 10-2 lead. (With a little help from Damian Lillard getting fouled on a three, that is.) Portland’s defense looked a little more mobile, partly because of Reddish’s length. But they weren’t that much more coordinated after the initial move by the Thunder. A screen, a cut and pass, and Oklahoma City was right at the rim, scoring. As a result, they quickly made up the difference, taking the lead down to 13-12 by the 6:20 mark.
As is standard, almost mandatory, nowadays, Lillard took over, driving and drawing fouls, hitting jumpers. He, with a little help from Jabari Walker inside, vaulted the Blazers all the way up to 28 points just three minutes later. But Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also knew how to play that game. He scored at the cup and line just like Dame did.
At that point, the period turned into an offensive free-for-all. Watford scored with a layup and missed a dunk that would have been another easy conversion. Tre Mann canned a couple of threes.
Through it all, Lillard persisted. He scored 20 points— TWEN-TY POINTS — off of 6 field goal makes in the period. That put the Blazers up 35-33 after one. Gilgeous-Alexander had 16 on 6 made field goals alongside.
The scoring spree continued unabated at the start of the second. Mann and Shaedon Sharpe lit up the scoreboard. Jerami Grant scored 5 points on a single trip down the floor, as he was undercut on a three for a flagrant foul, hit three free throws, and dunked on the ensuing possession when the Blazers got the ball back. The pace was fast, almost frantic, as both sides let fly.
Not being foolish, both teams began to focus on the opposing point guard. They threw extra men at Lillard and Gilgeous-Alexander, making them give up the ball.
That began a filthy, filthy run of scoring by literally EVERYBODY else in uniform. If you ever wanted to see Lu Dort, Jaylin Williams, Jalen Williams, Jabari Walker—and yes, Reddish—score like they were back in high school, this was the game for you. The teams build leads, but those might as well have been sandcastles in a windstorm. Swift passes yielded dunks aplenty. Free throws dropped like candy from a piñata. The Thunder scored 39 in the period, Portland 33, with each team hitting only three three-pointers.
By the half, OKC had 17 free throw attempts and 38 points in the paint. Portland had 20 free throw tries, 23 points from Dame, and 14 from Grant. Oklahoma City led 72-68.
The Blazers opened up the third period by serving the Thunder a buffet of threes. Lillard, Grant, and Nassir Little all hit them. Like Magic, OKC’s halftime lead evaporated and Portland took the front spot again.
In the process, Portland’s defense looked good every place but one. They really did a better job getting to midrange shots and threes in this game than they have most nights prior. Unfortunately that one spot was the restricted area, right at the rim. Oklahoma City still drove hard, drew foul shots, and managed to get the 5th (!) foul on Trendon Watford with 6:00 left in the period. Reminder: that’s the THIRD period.
Because this game was as sick as a St. Bernard in a chocolate factory, Gilgeous-Alexander drives and a Dort three brought the Thunder right back again. With both teams shooting 56% from the field, above 40% from the arc, and pouring in free throws, the scoreboard rang repeatedly. The two star point guards topped 30 with more than 3:00 left in the period. Reminder: that’s the THIRD period.
When the horn sounded, Portland led 105-103. How this was going to go was anybody’s guess.
Portland struck the first blow in the final period, hitting 3-3, including a deep three from Anfernee Simons, who had been pretty quiet prior. Oklahoma City went 0-4 in the same stretch, leaving the Blazers up 112-103 with two minutes gone.
But hey, this game was...this game. A pair of three-pointers, free throws for Gilgeous-Alexander, and a Josh Giddey floater in quick succession brought OKC all the way back, giving them a 114-113 lead with 7:00 left.
At that point the referees went a little loopy, getting their moment in the sun too. Random whistles added to the fun, and also gave Grant his fifth foul before the 6:00 mark of the fourth. Both teams also started feasting on offensive rebounds, meaning EVERY possession yielded a score, kind of like those “Play Until You Win a Prize” games at the fair.
In a game typified by offense, Drew Eubanks stepped up with some stiff defense at the cup, slowing down the Thunder long enough to allow Portland’s shooting to catch them up within three points with four minutes remaining.
That worked until Portland switched up into a zone, neutralizing Eubanks’ strengths and allowing Gilgeous-Alexander to get a comically-easy pull-up from eight feet, putting OKC up 5, 126-121 with 3:14 remaining. The Blazers called a timeout. This felt like the pivotal moment of the game.
Portland came out of that timeout with Dame drawing the defense, then kicking to Simons, who was almost, but not quite, spaced far enough away. Simons launched a semi-contested catch-and-shoot three, but it missed. OKC scored on the other end. Then Portland turned it over and the Thunder scored again. Then Portland turned it over, Oklahoma City got a breakaway dunk, earned the and-one foul, and watched that foul turned into a flagrant because of Simons following through on the block attempt. That gave the Thunder a free throw and possession, and yep...they scored on that possession too. That was it. Clarion trumpet calls turned to sad trombones, and the Blazers were staring at another home defeat.
Stay tuned for analysis from the game coming soon!
The Blazers take the weekend off before facing the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.