Photo / Bruce Ely

Westbrook Stuffs Stat Sheet But Lillard Earns Victory as Blazers Top Thunder

by Cody Sharrett

Russell Westbrook got the numbers, but Damian Lillard got the victory as the Portland Trail Blazers (25-35) beat the Oklahoma City Thunder (35-26), 114-109, in a nationally televised showcase of two of the NBA’s top point guards in front of 19,875 fans at a sold-out Moda Center in Portland Thursday night.

"We had some ups and downs in the game and some things didn’t go our way, but I liked the way we competed throughout the game," said Blazers head coach Terry Stotts following the win. "The first half, we did an excellent job except for the last 30 seconds and we fought through that. We fought through some other things in the second half and really battled. A lot of good performances – obviously Dame.

"Dame did what Dame does."

In their first home game since the All-Star break, the Blazers opened out of the game on to a 20-8 lead sparked by the early efforts of Lillard and Jusuf Nurkić to combine for 16 points in the first quarter. Oklahoma City responded with a 14-6 run to close the quarter at 26-24, led by Westbrook’s 10 points in the period. 

Entering Thursday’s contest with a league-leading 31.2 points per game, Westbrook continued to give the Blazer defense trouble with 27 first-half points, but the Blazers extended their lead to as many as nine thanks to a 52% clip from the field on the offensive end. The Thunder battled back with a 13-0 run to end the half, highlighted by a 61-foot heave into the basket from Taj Gibson at the buzzer to go into halftime up, 60-57.

The point guard battle continued into the second half, as Lillard scored 12 points in the third quarter only to be bested by Westbrook’s 13 to put him at the 40-point mark going into the final period with his team up, 85-81. Despite a pair of Al-Farouq Aminu dunks injecting life into the Moda Center crowd, the Blazers would fall behind to trail by as many as eight early in the fourth quarter. The three-pronged attack of Lillard, Nurkić and Aminu lead a 15-0 run to bring the home team and its fans back in it. Aminu scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting in the quarter.

“I always like his defense," Stotts said of Aminu. "He made a lot of very good defensive plays throughout the game, be it fronting the post, getting some steals. Offensively, I thought he made good decisions when to take the ball to the basket... It’s easy to look at the points, but honestly I think Chief since he’s come back and coming off the bench, he’s been a very solid player for us."

When Aminu did miss a free throw, Nurkić was there for the putback to give the Blazers their first lead of the fourth quarter at 103-101 with 3:41 to play. The Blazers would push their lead to nine and — despite some dicey late turnovers that cut Portland’s advantage to just 110-109 with 17.7 seconds left — held on in the closing seconds to win 114-109. 

"We came in the huddle and said 'Relax,'" Lillard said of the late drama. "We know we did soem things that put us in a bad spot, but we gotta relax."

Lillard continued: "I knew I needed to go get the ball, CJ needed to get the ball and we needed to make free throws and be strong with the ball, and that's what we did."

The Blazers shot 49% from the field and 40% from deep to best Oklahoma City’s marks of 39.5% overall and 38% from three-point territory. Portland out-rebounded the Thunder 45-40, and committed 14 turnovers to Oklahoma City’s 12.

Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 33 points to go with five assists and four rebounds in the victory. In his Moda Center debut, the big man Nurkić recorded a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while adding six assists. CJ McCollum shook off a slow start to finish with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. Aminu and Allen Crabbe scored 14 and 11 points off the bench, respectively. 

Westbrook finished with a game-high 45 points, as well as seven rebounds and four assists. Enes Kanter’s 18 points and Taj Gibson’s 15 points off the bench were the Thunder’s only other double-figure performers in the defeat. 

Up next, the Blazers host the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday at Moda Center. The Thunder continues a three-game road trip with a stop in Phoenix to visit the Suns on Friday.