The Portland Trail Blazers acquitted themselves incredibly well against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. In contrast to their last meeting, a blowout in Oklahoma City’s favor, this game was a real battle. Shai Gilegous-Alexander was the catalyst for the Thunder, attacking the lane and drawing free throws like the MVP candidate he is. The Blazers countered with an unholy barrage of three-pointers. After three quarters of punching and counter-punching, the teams fought through a hotly-contested fourth which saw a single-point lead ping pong back and forth between them. That all ended with the most bizarre finish to a game in recent memory.
Portland had the ball up a single point with a single possession left in the game when they double-dribbled into a turnover. Compounding the issue, Head Coach Chauncey Billups charged the officials for a perceived slight, earning two technical fouls. The ensuing free throws would end up tying the game, and Oklahoma City won it on a Jalen Williams jump shot that the Blazers couldn’t match.
After all the struggle and drama, the Thunder prevailed 111-109. Scoot Henderson led the Blazers with 19 points off the bench. Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons added 18 apiece, much of Simons’ coming in the critical fourth period.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 33 points, hitting 13 of 17 from the foul line.
Here’s how the game progressed.
The last time the Blazers played the Thunder, they lost by approximately six billion points. If you thought this game was going to begin differently, well, you were half right. Threes from Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons helped the Blazers to a 7-6 start after two minutes of play. But those were isolated moments. Oklahoma City started canning threes of their own, plus they hit other shots that the Blazers couldn’t approach. As Portland’s defense started crumbling, the Thunder built a 16-7 lead over the next two minutes.
Blocked shots and turnovers plagued the Blazers as the quarter reached its middle moments. Portland couldn’t dribble or pass without attracting traffic. They got snuffed, allowing Oklahoma City to run out. The Blazers ended up a step slow on defense, a boon for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who dominated the first period scoring. Unsurprisingly, fast offense beat no offense and the Blazers found themselves down by double digits.
The Blazers bailed themselves out with a couple made threes late in the first. It was an old story, though. The long ball didn’t put Portland ahead, or even catch them up. It just kept the scoreboard from being a disastrous mess for a while.
The Blazers hit 7 threes in the first, but Gilgeous-Alexander had 10 points and the Thunder led 38-28 at the quarter horn. Since it was less than six billion? Progress.
The second quarter started slow and sloppy, which favored the Blazers. A pretty game would belong to OKC. Ugly and random gave Portland a chance. A 6-0 run off of broken plays and offensive rebounds—aided and abetted by Thunder turnovers on the other end—brought the Blazers within 4, 40-36, with 9:30 remaining. A Jabari Walker three 45 seconds later cut it to 3, 42-39, prompting a Thunder timeout.
The Blazers would tie the game at 46 with 6:45 remaining as OKC continued playing sloppy ball. Turnovers proved the Achilles’ Heel for a team that should have been dominant. Scoot Henderson hit deep shots and drew fouls on drives to spur Portland’s run. That, a few threes from his teammates, and some interior scoring by Deandre Ayton, allowed the visitors to stay even, maybe even a little bit ahead.
Portland would go on to hit a season-high 12 triples in the first half. Their second-quarter edge of 38-20 propelled them to a semi-surprising 66-58 halftime lead.
The Blazers had to settle for a Jerami Grant three (naturally) and a layup as their only scoring in the first four minutes of the third. They forced Oklahoma City into some tough shots, though. They kept the lead at 73-66 with 8:00 remaining. Instead of taking over as the second half began, the Thunder tried to iso-score and distance-shoot their way out of the deficit. It didn’t work.
Portland’s offense didn’t recover at all as the period unfolded. Oklahoma City’s did, slowly. Their three-pointers would not fall, but they got enough inside attempts to close the lead to 3-4 by mid-period. The Blazers, still stalling, depended on free throws and the occasional three-pointer to produce points. They still held an 81-74 lead at a timeout with 2:48 remaining, but the whole affair felt dicey, like a hiker treading the edge of a cliff, feeling rocks crumble, and beginning to run in order to avoid a fall.
Gilgeous-Alexander made a concerted effort to move offense towards the bucket as the third period clock dwindled, drawing enough foul shots to cut into Portland’s lead. A three-pointer (naturally) from Matisse Thybulle with 1:40 remaining helped save the advantage...for a second. Those SGA free throws ate at the lead like so many hamsters nibbling at a slat lick. When the period expired, Oklahoma City led once again, 88-86. Portland’s offense would be tested in the fourth.
The opening stanza of the fourth period was a microcosm of the other three. Portland relied heavily on three-pointers to keep them alive. Oklahoma City went inside repeatedly. Fortunately for Portland, they missed everything including the dartboard. Those contested, interior bricks allowed the Blazers to regain a slight lead, then fight tooth and nail to try and keep it.
The lead stayed at a single point from the first minute of the fourth through the eleventh. Jabari Walker did yeoman’s work on the glass. The guards, led by Henderson, finally scored at the cup, weaning their team from its former reliance on the long ball. But every time Portland got up by a point, OKC would force a miss and get a short shot or free throws.
Appropriately, the game came down to the last few possessions. With 47 seconds left, Portland brought it up the floor, score tied at 106. Anfernee Simons dribbled the clock down to 30, then launched a DEEEEEP three. It swished through twine, completing his own personal 8-point scoring streak in the latter reaches of the period.
Jalen Williams hit a jumper, lightly-contested, to make the score 109-108 with 25 seconds left. Then disaster struck.
Bringing the ball up the court, Malcolm Brogdon got called for a critical double-dribble. Coach Billups tried to get a timeout to bail him out, but he used words, not clearly demonstrable gestures. When Brogdon got whistled, Billups exploded. He made physical contact with an official, drew a technical, then drew a second for an ejection.
Just as importantly, that gave the Thunder the ball and two technical foul shots. They hit only one of two, but that was enough to tie the score at 109. 16 seconds remained.
On the ensuing possession, Williams took the ball to the same area from which he had just scored. He rose and hit a jumper with 2 seconds remaining. OKC led 111-109, with one possession for Portland.
The Blazers attempted to lob to Deandre Ayton at the rim from the sideline. The inbounds pass was underthrown and the ball got stolen. 111-109 remained on the scoreboard as the teams walked off the floor.
Stay tuned for analysis from the game, coming soon.
The Blazers face the Houston Rockets tomorrow night at 5:00 PM, Pacific.