Lillard's Third Quarter Can't Overcome Fouls, Turnovers in Game Three Loss In Oklahoma City

by Casey Holdahl
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Despite trailing by as many as 16 points in the second half, the Trail Blazers were able to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter Friday night in Oklahoma City.

But between shooting 15 fewer free throws, committing 18 turnovers and the Thunder shooting 52 percent from the three-point line, the Trail Blazers eventually fell 120-108 in front of a sellout crowd in Game Three of the Western Conference three-six matchup Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

"They made shots as a team from the three," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "Obviously they didn't shoot the ball well the first two games and they shoot over 50 percent tonight, so that was a big difference in the game."

Even with the loss, the Trail Blazers still lead the series 2-1 with Game Four scheduled for Sunday at 6:30 p.m. in Oklahoma City.

After a close first quarter that featured seven lead changes and two ties, the Thunder were able to take control late in the second quarter thanks to the combination of shooting 10 free throws and the Trail Blazers turning the ball over 10 times for 10 Oklahoma City points. After game was tied at 33-33 with 3:52 to play, the Thunder closed the half on a 16-6 run, with seven of those points coming from the charity stripe, to take a 49-39 lead into the intermission.

"We've got to take care of the free-throw line," said Stotts. "They got to the free-throw line too much. The free throw disparity was kind of a big deal all game."

The Thunder pushed their advantage up to 16 after a Terrance Ferguson three-pointer push the score to 61-45, and at that point, it looked as though the game might get away from the Portland in the second half. But behind 25 points from Damian Lillard, Portland scored 43 points in the third to cut the Thunder lead to four going into the fourth.

"We knew that they were going to be physical and I thought we did that until the last few minutes and then we were looking at a 10-point deficit at the third quarter," said Lillard. "I knew I needed to be a little more aggressive, so I didn’t get away from them as early and just give us a chance to make it a five-minute game. Keep it close and turn it into a late game where they have to go take it. I thought we did a great job at that. On that third quarter, I kind of had that in mind. Just keep it close. Make sure that we’re in striking range to steal."

Portland tied the game at 89-89 early in the fourth quarter, but as had been the case all evening, the Thunder were able to take a two to three possession lead every time it looked as though the Trail Blazers might get over the top. Thanks to 14 points in the quarter from Russell Westbrook, the Thunder managed to hold a lead of at least five points for the remainder of the game before finishing with a 12-point victory.

"We knew that it was going to be a physical game because so far this entire series has been really physical," said Lillard. "But you don’t give the benefit of the doubt on the road. I think on both sides, both teams played really physical and they lived at the free throw line and we didn’t."

The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored 25 of his 32 points in the third quarter to get Portland back into the game after they trailed by 10 going into the half. The 6-3 point guard out of Weber State also finished with six assists, four rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes.

CJ McCollum went 7-of-16 from the field, 5-of-8 from three and 2-of-4 from the free throw line for 21 points to go with seven assists, seven rebounds and a steal in 36 minutes.

Enes Kanter was the only other Blazer to score in double figures with 10 points in 29 minutes. Aminu added nine points and nine rebounds, Meyers Leonard added eight points off the bench and Moe Harkless finished with seven points, three rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in 34 minutes.

Russell Westbrook went 11-of-22 from the field for 33 points while also tallying 11 assists and five rebounds in 38 minutes. Paul George went just 3-of-16 from the field but was awarded 17 free throws, 14 of which he made, to finish with 22 points, six rebounds and six assists in 41 minutes.

"We made it tough on (George)," said Harkless. "He shot 17 free throws and had 22 points. I mean, I think that’s a pretty good job defensively. We can’t control the free throws; it’s just a part of the game. We’ve just got to do a better job not fouling him."

After shooting horribly in the first two games of the series, Jerami Grant went 6-of-7 from the field and 4-of-5 from three for 18 points. Dennis Schroder put up 17 points off the bench and Steven Adams finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes.

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