Trail Blazers Take Control In Third Quarter To Take 3-1 Lead Versus Thunder

by Casey Holdahl
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- It's officially a series.

The Portland Trail Blazers won their first road playoff game in three years and took a commanding lead in their first-round playoff series versus the Thunder with a 111-98 victory in Game Four in front of a sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena Sunday night in Oklahoma City.

"We were very business-like, we took care of our business," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "As I told the team, we have to be concerned about us and I thought we played the way we needed to play. There really wasn't a lot of the peripheral stuff, I thought both teams really focused on the basketball game. I thought it was well officiated, both teams played hard -- Rasheed -- but I like the way we approached the game throughout."

The Trail Blazers now lead the Western Conference three-six series 3-1 with Game Five to be played at the Moda Center.

The Trail Blazers won all four quarters Sunday night, though they struggled from the field in the first half, shooting just 39 percent from the field. Were it not for the shooting of Al-Farouq Aminu, who put up 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first half, Portland's night might have ended much differently.

"Sometimes (Aminu) scores, sometimes he doesn't, but he gives a great effort every night," said Terry Stotts. "We ask him to do a lot of things at the defensive end, to rebound. You know, he's probably a better shooter than people give him credit for, and he's been an important part of our team since he's been here."

While they took a four-point lead into the intermission, the Trail Blazers didn't really take control of the game until the third quarter. Portland used a 13-3 run, with Damian Lillard, who had been quiet offensively for most of the first half, pitching in three three-pointers and a transition dunk, to take a 68-54 lead with 6:18 to play in the quarter.

"I wasn't making shots but I thought out execution was pretty good when we weren't turning the ball over," said Lillard. "Our defense was solid, so I didn't feel the need to try to get overly aggressive in the first half once I saw how the game was going. But then in the third I felt that was the time where we needed to kind of hit the gas. Not playing great in the first half, them making shots, forcing turnovers and we still had the lead. We came out the locker room saying 'Turn it up, get more aggressive on offense, keep trusting each other, but let's tighten up on defense.' We did that and I was able to get rolling on the offensive end."

By time the third ended, Lillard had scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 shooting from three after shooting 2-of-8 and 1-of-5 from the field and three, respectively, in the first half. With Lillard rolling and everyone on the Thunder side besides Paul George struggling to deal with a defense that tallied ten steals and eight blocks, the Trail Blazers pushed their lead to as many as 19 points before going into the fourth leading 79-68.

The Blazers, thanks in large part to CJ McCollum, were able to keep the Thunder at a comfortable distance for the rest of the game despite the best efforts of George. So with Lillard on the bench to start the fourth after playing the entire third, McCollum answered the call, going 4-of-5 from the field and 3-of-4 from three, with each of those triples coming at just the moments when it looked like the Thunder might make a run, for 13 points in the quarter.

“We got swept last year, it was really embarrassing," said McCollum. "Everyone talked about it. It was on TV every day. I went on TV and they talked about us getting swept. They talked about me getting traded. Talked about how we can’t win together, and all of that stuff. We remember it, and we understand that feeling of going home early."

Oklahoma City cut the lead to nine early in the fourth, but Portland scored eight-straight points, with six of those coming courtesy of McCollum threes, to maintain order.

The Thunder tried to apply pressure late to force turnovers or quick shots, but the Blazers kept their composure throughout the fourth to eventually come away with a 13-point victory.

"Like Coach said, we had a business-like mentality and that was the first time that after Game Three it was like we were in the locker room, saying they lived at the free throw line and all this stuff," said Lillard. "But Game Four we are not talking to nobody but ourselves. Referees can call it how they want to call it; we are just going to worry about ourselves. We are going to play hard, stay together, whenever they crowd gets into it, we are just going to keep doing what we do and come out on top. I was proud that we were able to stick to that and get done but a lot of that is because of what we have been through during the regular season and how we came together."

The Blazers were led by McCollum, who went 10-of-20 from the field and 5-of-9 from three to finish with 27 points to go with four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal in 42 minutes.

Lillard scored just seven points in the first half but finished with 24 on 7-of-19 shooting to go with eight assists, three rebounds and a steal in 41 minutes.

Aminu had his best game of the playoffs and arguably one of the best of his career in Game Four, going 7-of-16 from the field and 4-of-9 from three to 19 points to go with nine rebounds, a block and a steal in 30 minutes.

"Self proclaimed killer," said McCollum of Aminu. "He was big tonight, he hit a lot of shots for us, he was aggressive around the basket. Defensive he was active. He rebounded, he contested shots, he was the glue guy that we needed and that we've yearned for throughout this season."

Moe Harkless put up a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds while also tallying three blocks and two steals.

"I knew we had to leave it all out there on the floor and live with the results," said Harkless. "So I just played hard, was aggressive defensively on the boards and if I got an open shot I was taking it. Just being aggressive and trying to make an impact on the floor."

Zach Collins came off the bench to score 10 points and Enes Kanter came a bucket short of a double-double with 8 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes to go with two steals and a block.

The Thunder were led by George, who went 8-of-21 from the field for 32 points to go with 10 rebounds and six assists. Dennis Schroder had 17 points off the bench and Russell Westbrook finished with 14 points, with all but one of those coming in the first half, seven assists and nine rebounds in 40 minutes.

With four games in the books, the remaining games now alternate between Portland and Oklahoma City for the rest of the series, with Game Four taking place Tuesday, April 23 at the Moda Center.

"It's going to be tough, close out games are always tough," said Stotts. "It's good that we're back home but that doesn't guarantee anything. But we've been very focused on what we need to do and we need to have that on Tuesday."

Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Northwest, Rip City Radio 620 AM and TNT.


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