Shorthanded Blazers Fall Short In Oklahoma City

by Casey Holdahl
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Despite having just eight players in uniform in the second game of a back-to-back and their third in four nights, the Portland Trail Blazers were right in the thick of things through the better part of three quarters Saturday night in Oklahoma City.

They just couldn't keep it up through the fourth.

After trailing by as few as four points with less than four minutes to play in the third quarter, the Trail Blazers were soundly bested in the fourth to fall 119-106 to the Thunder in front of a sellout crowd of 18,203 Saturday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Trail Blazers are now 18-26 overall and 9-15 on the road this season. With the loss, Portland finishes the road trip 1-2 and the season series versus the Thunder 2-2.

With CJ McCollum sitting out with a left ankle sprain suffered in the first quarter of Friday night's loss to the Mavericks and both Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver not with the team, Terry Stotts was left with just eight players for Saturday night's game. And one of those players, Gary Trent Jr, received an IV Friday night due to illness.

“When you’re sick, the morning is always the worst," said Trent Jr. "You’re groggy, you’re tired, you’re sore and obviously playing the night before. But like I said though, the medical staff made sure I was well prepared for the game."

Despite suffering the effects of the same upper repertory illness that has ravaged Portland's locker room over the last few weeks, Trent Jr. turned in the best performance of his career, and on his 21st birthday no less.

"I was very happy Gary Trent had a good game," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "Obviously, it was one of the best games of his career. Particularly coming off an illness, I thought that was a great game by him."

The second-year guard out of Duke started hot and stayed hot for most of the game, making his first seven shots and not missing an attempt until well into the fourth quarter, to finish with a career-best 30 points in 36 minutes.

“He’s tough for lasting through two nights playing through the sickness, and he had a great game," said Damian Lillard. "He was aggressive. He shot the ball well. He played a great game.”

But even with Trent Jr. making up for McCollum's absence, the Blazers were unable to keep touch with a Thunder team that managed to answer every time Portland got to within striking distance.

The final example came late in the third, when Carmelo Anthony 13-footer cut what was a 13-point lead to four with 3:45 to play in the quarter. But the Thunder would score the next six points and ultimately went into the fourth leading by 10.

With so few players available -- Damian Lillard and Hassan Whiteside were the only opening night starters in uniform -- and with many of those players in their first or second season, the Blazers weren't able to make a finish push against a team featuring the likes of Chris Paul, Steven Adams and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Oklahoma City push their lead up to as many as 20 in the fourth before their deep bench came in to ride out the 13-point win.

"We were hanging close. They made some runs," said Stotts. "I don't know if we ran out of gas, but the minutes were kind of under control... I think mostly it was Chris Paul's impact on the game more than anything else."

Damian Lillard lead all scorers with 34 points on 10-of-23 shooting from the field, six assists and a steal in 36 minutes.

In addition to scoring 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting, Trent Jr. added five rebounds, three steals, an assist and a block in 36 minutes.

Anfernee Simons, who started in place of McCollum, was the only other Trail Blazers to crack double figures in scoring with 12 points.

Chris Paul led the Thunder with 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting, seven assists and four rebounds in 27 minutes. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put up a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds while also handing out five assists. Nerlen Noel and Dennis Schroder each came off the bench to score 15.

Next up, the Trail Blazers return to Portland to start a four-game homestead, which begins on Monday versus the Golden State Warriors. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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