Make or Miss: Thunder Needs Scoring to Avoid Elimination – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC at POR Game 5

By Nick Gallo | Digital Content Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 9:30 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

PORTLAND – At this stage in a playoff series, there are few wholesale changes remaining to be made. Going into a fifth game between two division rivals that played four times in the regular season, there are no mysteries remaining. Both the Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers’ coaching staffs know one another’s plays and options.

Now, it’s all about execution and whether the ball goes in the basket, and for whom. In Game 5 in Portland, the Thunder must do both of those things at a higher level than its foe or else it’s postseason hopes will be dashed for good in 2018-19.

“All we can really do right now is watch the film, try to make some corrections and adjustments and get ready for Game 5,” Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “We've got to go up there and we've got to obviously play better on both ends of the floor.”

For reference in terms of execution, the Thunder can look to the first halves of the past two games in Oklahoma City, where it held Portland to an average of just 44.5 points on 38.2 percent shooting and just five free throw attempts, while racking up 6.5 steals and 4.5 blocks with its disruptive defense.

In addition, Portland’s dynamic scoring backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot a combined 11-for-32 from three in the first halves of Game 3 and Game 4. However, the Thunder has not come out of the locker room well in this series, getting outscored 131-82 in the third period for an average margin of 32.8 points for Portland compared to just 20.5 for the Thunder. The main thorn in the Thunder’s side in the third quarter has been Lillard, who is averaging 13.8 points on 60 percent shooting, including 8-for-11 marksmanship from behind the arc.

1-on-1: Terrance Ferguson
Terrance Ferguson talks about the team's mentality heading into tonight's "win or go home" matchup.

Lillard and McCollum are averaging over 55 points per game combined in the series, but most remarkably are shooting 32-of-67 (47.8 percent) on three-point attempts over the first four games. Those numbers would be impressive for shooters left wide open on the perimeter, but the Thunder has had a hand and two defenders near both players anytime they have the ball.

On the other end of the floor, the Thunder’s poor offense has amplified the differential. For sure the Thunder has missed more than its share of open three-pointers, making just 30.8 percent of its looks from beyond the arc, but it also could be manufacturing better shots as well. In Game 4, the Thunder took 18 non-paint 2-point jumpers, including many with no passes before the shot and have shot just 25.9 percent on above the break three-pointers compared to 40.8 percent on corner threes.

“I didn’t think that maybe our ball movement was as good at times during the game,” Donovan noted about Game 4. “When those guys (Lillard and McCollum), they’re making some of the shots that they made, what happens is we’re not making those shots that would be somewhat similar… When we’re missing those shots, it certainly looks that we maybe could’ve generated better shots.”

Despite the shooting differential, the Thunder still has life, but it must win the next three games in the series to become just the 12th team in NBA Playoff history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in a series. That can only be done one game at a time, so the Thunder must have the poise, stamina and mental toughness to win on the road in Game 5 to give itself a chance to go back to Oklahoma City for a Game 6.

“The momentum in games is when you have it, you want to keep it. When you lose it, how quickly can you stop it?” Donovan asked rhetorically. “The games are gonna go like that, so you’ve got to be able to handle and manage those runs.”

“Being as efficient as you can on offense. You can’t foul, and giving up offensive rebounds, some of those little things like that kind of magnify that,” Donovan continued. “We’re gonna have to handle those type of situations.”

Game Day Report - Game 5
Fundamentals and taking care of the ball will be crucial in tonight's elimination game.

SHOOTAROUND NOTES

- The Thunder has been defined by its competitive spirit all season long. During the course of the year, it had 18 comebacks from more than 10 points down, the most in the NBA. It stands to reason that perhaps this squad has a chance to make an improbable series comeback as well. It needs to rip off three straight wins, but the team believes it can do it.

  • “This team doesn’t have no quit in it. We’re built for this. If there’s a team to be down 3-1 to come back from it, I think this team can do it,” Paul George said.
  • “We’ve never lost confidence. Keep doing what you’re doing and take care of business. Win or go home,” Russell Westbrook added.

- For all the complex coverages, slick offensive actions and decisions that will need to be made throughout the game, sometimes an NBA playoff game like this one, particularly on the road, comes down to who is simply able to get the ball into the basket more than the other team. The Thunder’s ability to finish at the rim, in the paint and in transition have been lackluster in the losses this series yet was great in the victory in Game 3. Being able to convert and finish plays tonight will be crucial.

  • “We gotta just to continue play second side, play third, possession after possession, just continue to play the game and not settle,” George said. “We’re getting to a lot of good spots. There’s always a play we could have drove another time, kicked it another time or extra passed another time. Those are possessions we could really wear their defense out and really open the game up for ourselves.”
  • “Keeping it simple is a big part, just taking what they give you, attacking the paint and finding ways to make the game easier,” Westbrook said. “It’s a read and react game.”

NEWS & NOTES

-       So much in the playoffs comes down to the fundamentals. This season the Thunder hasn’t been a great free throw shooting team, but in the postseason it has gone to the free throw line 17 more times than Portland and is hitting 77.7 percent of its shots there. George has been the ringleader, knocking down 35 of his 41 attempts, which are both first in the league this postseason.  

-       Unfortunately for the Thunder, it has not capitalized on one of the other fundamentals of the game - finishing around the rim. Donovan’s club is shooting just 56.4 percent in the restricted area for the series and only 22-of-48 in transition, meaning that missed layups and poorly executed fast breaks could have been a massive difference in some of these games. Get those areas cleaned up, and the Thunder will give itself a chance in Game 5.

  • “We had some plays around the basket, we just weren’t really able to finish,” Donovan said. “We had some fast break opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on. Those things sometimes happen, but those are the kind of shots you want, at the rim.”
  • “For our team, when we’ve been kind of up and down shooting, when you get those kind of shots you’ve really got to capitalize on them,” Donovan added.

Steven Adams

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