Homestand Ends With Lackluster Effort In Loss To Thunder

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- The Trail Blazers came into the season determined to improve a defense that had ranked as one of the worst in the NBA last season.

So far, that hasn’t happened.

After trailing by as many as 17 points in the first quarter and giving up 69 points in the first half, the Trail Blazers spent the second half trying to dig out of a considerable hole only to eventually fall 125-122 to the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night.

“(Oklahoma City) moved the ball really well, we didn’t contain their penetration,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Our attention to detail was very poor, our first-half defense was pathetic and there was no excuse for it. I thought Oklahoma City played really well. They penetrated the ball, they passed the ball, they shot the ball.”

The Trail Blazers are now 9-7 overall and 5-5 at the Moda Center. The Thunder have now won the last three meetings. And with the loss, the Trail Blazers finish a five-game homestand with a 2-3 record.

“We had an opportunity to finish this homestand strong, go onto the road 10-6 and feeling good about ourselves,” said Damian Lillard. “We didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.”

Despite Oklahoma City’s record, Monday’s game was always going to be a tough one with Portland down yet another starter -- Robert Covington (concussion) joined CJ McCollum (left foot) and Jusuf Nurkic (right hand) on the injured list -- and with Rodney Hood being a late scratch due to a thigh contusion. But playing shorthanded didn’t come close to justifying Portland’s first-half effort, one that saw Oklahoma City shoot 57 percent from the field and 6-of-12 from three in the first quarter.

“I thought we came out a little bit loose, our communication wasn’t really sharp,” said Lillard. “We made a lot of mistakes that we haven’t made in a while. Even in game that we didn’t play well, prior to this one, we didn’t make the kind of mistakes that we made tonight. Communication, knowing personnel, playing the scouting report, all of those things. And then just doing the work. We were letting guys penetrate with little to no resistance, we weren’t helping each other as much.”

Portland’s offense picking up in the second quarter -- they shot better than 60 percent from both the field and from three in the quarter -- helped mitigate some of the damage caused by their inability to show much resistance on defense, though not nearly enough to make up a first-quarter deficit. Oklahoma City would go go 6-of-9 from three, with Mike Muscala making three of those on four attempts, to take a nine-point lead into the intermission. And to be frank, given how they played, that felt like a win for the Trail Blazers.

However, small victories wouldn’t add up to much anything of substance in the second half. Oklahoma City’s shooting accuracy wained in the second half, though it would be difficult to attribute much of that to Portland’s defensive effort. Thanks to the offensive of Anfernee Simons -- he put up 12 points in the third on 4-of-5 shooting from three -- Portland managed to tie the game on multiple occasions in the third quarter, and even took a brief one-point lead early in the fourth.

But Oklahoma City would immediately respond by going on an 11-3 run to take a 105-98 lead with 8:16 to play in the fourth. With Portland completely unable string together a serious of stops, the Thunder would hold a double-digit lead for much of the remainder of the game. Some late-game heroics by Lillard paired with poor free throw shooting from the Thunder gave the home team a glimmer of hope, but again, they could never get a stop when it really mattered.

“We made a game of it and we gave ourselves a chance but we don’t have the luxury to wait around and turn it on when we want to turn it on,” said Lillard. “Especially dealing with all the injuries that we’re dealing with, and even when we’re a healthy team that’s not who we are. We can’t turn it on and off. We played better in the second half but it just wasn’t a good enough effort to win an NBA game.”

Simons finished the game with 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting, two rebounds, an assist and a steal in 29 minutes. Lillard also added 26 points, albeit on 8-of-22 shooting, while handing out 10 assists and six rebounds for the double-doubler in 38 minutes.

Carmelo Anthony logged 22 points and six rebounds starting in place of Covington. Gary Trent Jr. did the same in his first start of the season, going 9-of-17 in 41 minutes.

Enes Kanter also completed the double-double with 13 points and 22 of Portland’s 49 rebounds in just under 32 minutes.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 24 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks in 32 minutes. Muscala, averaging 8.9 points per game this season, finished with 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting in 23 minutes.

The Trail Blazers now have two days off before heading east for a six-game, 11-day road trip that starts Thursday versus the Rockets in Houston. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.


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