After exchanging leads with the Thunder all Friday night, the Blazers collapsed late to lose 138-129 at the Moda Center, marking the third loss in three tries against OKC this season. Going further back, it marks Portland’s seventh straight loss to the Thunder.
The game that was advertised as a showdown between Western Conference All-Star point guards didn’t disappoint. Damian Lillard balled out in the first game post-trade deadline, scoring 38 points and 9 assists on an efficient 10-18 shooting and 6 3-pointers. But Shai Gilgeous-Alexander again got the best of the matchup, posting 44 points and seven assists on a super-efficient 13-16 shooting.
Jerami Grant added 23 points in the loss, while new acquisition Cam Reddish got the start in what became a decent Blazers debut, scoring 11 points in 17 minutes.
If you missed any of the action, check out our quarter-by-quarter recap of the game from Dave Deckard.
Now, here are seven observations from the loss.
As stated above, the top point guard showdown lived up to its billing, with Lillard and Gilgeous-Alexander both turning in star-worthy performances. Lillard got it started by dropping 20 points in the first quarter. He had the 3-ball falling from jump (6-13 3PT FG) and scored on some nifty drives where he split and sidestepped defenders like a cone drill. But we know what Lillard can do. This game gave us another close look at surging star Gilgeous-Alexander and I was wowed by the 24-year-old. Seriously, the talent and poise is real. He was steady all night, scoring 16 points in the first quarter, 8 in the second, 10 in third and 10 in the fourth. Whereas Lillard’s primary weapon is the 3-pointer, Gilgeous-Alexander at 6’6 uses his physicality to attack the paint endlessly (only one 3-point attempt against Portland). There’s a reason he only missed three shots all night. He’s generating good, close looks at the basket. And his bag runs deep. In this game alone, Gilgeous-Alexander created space and driving angles with euro-steps, spin moves, postups, fadeaways, right- and left-hand finishes, dunks. Portland was forced to throw double-teams at him in the second half, the typical Dame treatment, but it still didn’t work. Every second, he’s using that physicality to bump defenders away and keep them on their toes, leading to easy layups or fouls.
It’s a Grift-off
This leads to the next point of discussion: foul calls. This duel wasn’t only a matchup of two elite scorers, it was a matchup of two elite foul-drawers. Grifters, if you will. Lillard is no stranger to generating free throws by suckering opponents into contact (or forcing it himself) and manipulating officials. Some of those tactics helped Lillard go 12-13 from the stripe Friday night. Gilgeous-Alexander took the same tactic and turned it into a painful form of art. His physical style led to an 18-19 free throw performance. Some of those whistles were on the highly suspect side. Portland forwards struggled with foul trouble all night and were left with exasperated faces at the calls, even laughing a little near the end. As a team, OKC shot 32-35 from the stripe, while Portland shot 29-31. The many calls had two effects: One, they gave the game a funky, stop-and-go pace; Second, the whistles, along with Gilgeous-Alexander’s talent and Portland’s suspect defense, made him near-impossible to stop.
Shocker, the Blazers defense failed them again. This game was an offensive fireworks show. 267 total points put up. Both teams shot over 55 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep. Both teams shot over 30 free throws. And both teams had 29 assists apiece. You don’t see those types of absurd numbers without bad defenses to match. Portland didn’t have an answer for OKC on that end, at least for any sustainable stretch, as taking the ball out of the net became an inevitability. OKC got loads of buckets off straight-line drives and several times Portland defenders fell asleep or were a step behind on backdoor cuts (70 points in the paint for OKC). Most times, Portland either surrendered two points, fouled or did both to give up an and-1. When OKC kicked out to shooters, they tended to be wide open, leading to 12-24 marksmanship from distance. Doubling Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t remedy any issues either, it just led to more open triples. On separate occasions, Portland extended leads to 8, 9 and 10 points, but promptly let OKC back in the game with large runs. In that pivotal fourth quarter, the Blazers gave up 35 points to seal their fate. Normally, when a team scores over 125 points, that’s a win in the bank. That wasn’t enough cushion to cover Portland’s defense.
Another Late Collapse
I’m beginning to feel like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” repeating the same sentence over and over again on a typewriter, but the Blazers again blew a fourth quarter lead by falling apart in crunch time. Early in the final period, Portland led 112-103. The Thunder responded with a 16-2 run to regain the lead and make the game tight. Then with the Blazers trailing 124-121 with under four minutes remaining, OKC slammed the door shut with a 12-0 run aided by missed 3-pointers and turnovers. The Blazers offense disappeared and the defense stayed porous. It got out of hand so fast there was enough time to empty the bench before the buzzer.
Simons didn’t have it Friday night. He shot 3-14 from the field and 1-8 on 3-pointers, a number of those misses coming off clean looks (though he did register 6 assists). He just didn’t appear comfortable on the court, especially as his struggles continued and his trusty 3-point shot failed him. Simons had difficulty navigating set defenses Friday, especially when the Blazers set the table for him by clearing out and isolating him up top, leading to one end-of-quarter turnover. At one point, even Blazers broadcaster Lamar Hurd observed Simons needed to stay confident and not overthink decisions. With just over two minutes left, the nail in the coffin came on a breakaway Thunder slam sparked by a Simons turnover. He got whistled for a flagrant foul on the play too. Insult to injury.
The Kids Are Alright
Silver lining time! Rookies Shaedon Sharpe and Jabari Walker turned in stellar games off the bench. Walker scored 10 points on 5-7 shooting, adding 3 rebounds and dependable hustle. 8 of those points came in his first shift. His instincts as a rookie continue to be solid, as he often times makes the composed, correct play (except when he’s blowing layups or dunks). Walker attacked a closeout for a deuce, cleaned up misses for put-backs, cut off Dame for a baseline flush and even drove at Josh Giddey for another bucket with the shot clock winding down. Sharpe added 13 points on 5-8 field goal shooting and 3-4 shooting from deep, along with a few emphatic blocks and another sky-piercing alley oop. He seems to be looking more comfortable and confident by the game now. With more minutes opened up, look out. Oh, and before Trendon Watford got silenced by early foul trouble, he was again dismantling defenses as a distributor with numbers advantages out of the high post and pick-and-roll.
Get a Load of the New Guy
As stated up top, Cam Reddish played solid in his Blazers debut, especially considering he hadn’t played since early December. He scored 11 points in 17 minutes on 4-7 shooting from the field and 2-5 from deep. He knocked down his first two shots in the first quarter — a cutting layup and a corner 3 at the shot clock buzzer — and the Moda Center erupted with approval. You can see why Reddish is a former lottery pick touted with potential. The size and length at 6’7 is apparent, so is the shooting touch, both shown off in the third quarter on a running, one-legged, and-1 jumper over a Thunder defender in transition. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to climb in his new opportunity.
The Blazers take on the retooled Los Angeles Lakers Monday, Feb. 13 at the Moda Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 PT.