Third Quarter Swoon Downs Thunder - OKC 114, POR 94

By Nick Gallo | Digital Content Reporter |

PORTLAND – Poor playoff possessions are costly. Poor playoff quarters are deadly.

On Tuesday night the Thunder faltered to start the second half and was never able to recover in a meaningful way, falling 114-94 to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 2 of this first round of the Western Conference playoffs. The series now moves back to Oklahoma City for Games 3 and 4 with the Thunder trailing 2-0.

“They won their first two home games. We obviously wanted to try to steal one when we can but the message is just stay with it,” said point guard Russell Westbrook. “A lot of great guys on this basketball team that I trust in to make shots and make plays on both sides of the basketball. We’ll be alright.”

Despite holding a 10-point lead in the first half and letting it slip at the end of the second quarter, this game was won - or lost depending on your perspective - in the third quarter. From an identity standpoint, it was all wrong for the Thunder coming out of the locker room. With 8 turnovers that resulted in 16 points, including back-to-back giveaways at the top of the key that led to four fast break points for Portland, the Thunder allowed the Blazers to beat it at its own game.

“Turnovers period is not good. We just gotta take care of the ball, including me. Everyone in this locker room,” said guard Dennis Schröder. “We just gotta move the ball as a team.”

“Turnovers are always going to hurt you if you’re not getting a shot at the basket,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan. “I felt like we didn’t move the ball as well as we needed to in the third quarter in terms of generating penetration, finding the open man and moving it when they were bringing help.”

In the period, Portland outscored the Thunder 37-21, attempting 7 more field goals and shooting 60.9%, including 6-for-11 from three-point range. To end the quarter, the Blazers scored on back-to-back Seth Curry three-pointers, including one in transition after a Thunder turnover, and then three Damian Lillard free throws and a Lillard step-back three at the quarter buzzer. That devastating flurry sparked a 14-2 run than ran Portland’s lead up to 18 points.

“Our defense labored, and obviously, [the Blazers] putting the ball on the floor and attacking us [hurt us],” said Donovan. “After the third quarter, we were playing uphill to get back into the game and I thought the difference in the game was that third quarter.”

The Thunder never got closer than 14 the rest of the way. Lillard and CJ McCollum were practically the entirety of the Blazers’ offense in the game, scoring in isolation, on pull-up jump shots and rim attacks. The backcourt duo combined for 62 points on 22-for-43 shooting, including 7-for-15 three-point shooting. Meanwhile, the Thunder as a team went 5-of-28 from behind the arc.

“They keep coming downhill. They were taking a couple non-paint two’s, which is good, but they were making a lot of them,” said Adams. “You take away the shot, he’s got a drive. These guys are good, they’ll make a play.”

“Some of it was well-defended. What makes those guys [Lillard and McCollum] challenging is they shoot threes with range and they can play off the dribble and they’re really good off the dribble. They’ve got speed so you’ve obviously gotta get up on them which creates more space,” added Donovan. “I don’t think they hurt us in pick and rolls, as much as we really had a hard time containing them off the dribble in space.”

To start the game, Donovan’s club had a successful approach, gang rebounding on the defensive end to limit Portland to zero second chances in the first six minutes. On defense, Russell Westbrook and Terrance Ferguson hustled to get back in front of the ballhandler in pick and roll coverage. On defense, the Thunder used flare screens to open up jump shots and got early seals for Steven Adams, who started the game 3-for-3 from the field. After 7 minutes of play, the Thunder led 20-13.

After a strong spurt from the Thunder’s reserves, including Dennis Schröder, Nerlens Noel and Markieff Morris, the lead rose to 10 points mid-way through the second quarter. At that juncture, with much of the momentum and the starters returning, Portland struck. Lillard scored on a driving layup, then after a missed Westbrook three-pointer, Lillard darted ahead in the secondary break and found an opening for a three-pointer, which he drained with a foul call. The four-point play cut the Thunder’s lead to four, and by halftime, it was tied.

The Thunder’s biggest problem all night was similar to the one on Sunday – it just couldn’t make shots while the Blazers got a lot of tough ones to go down. Portland’s Zach Collins banked in a prayer at the end of the shot clock. Al-Farouq Aminu knocked down a long two with 1 on the shot clock and Lillard hit an outrageous step-back three to beat the halftime buzzer. For the game, Portland was 13-of-32 (40.6 percent) from the three-point line.

Meanwhile, Westbrook went just 5-of-20 in the game, missing from both behind the arc, in the midrange and at the rim. Despite Paul George getting back on track with a 27-point effort, the Thunder as a whole had another rough shooting night from behind the arc, this time going just 5-of-28 (17.9 percent) from deep to bring the grand total to 10-for-61 (16.4 percent) from three in the series. The Thunder’s offensive woes bled into the defense tonight. It can’t let two losses in Portland travel with it to Oklahoma City.

“It starts with myself. I gotta play better. The loss, I’m going to take full responsibility of tonight because the way I played was unacceptable,” Westbrook stated. “I’m going to be better. I’m not worried one bit. My job is to make sure I continue to come out and will and lead our guys and make sure we have a chance to win the game.”



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