Contest Shots and Step Up When it Counts – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. POR

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Digital Reporter |

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

There have been some wire-to-wire wins this year, but over the course of the season, the Thunder has done its fair share of surging to the finish line. While a nice start-to-finish performance would be quite welcome in the Thunder’s final game at home before the All-Star Break, Head Coach Billy Donovan and his club know that tonight’s clash with the Portland Trail Blazers will be anything but easy. Once again, it may take some Thunder heroics to come up with a W.

The Thunder has won the first two games in this four-game season series, and is in the midst of a stretch of 10 wins in its past 11 games, including a stunning 26-point comeback victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday. This Thunder squad lives by a mantra, and while it showed itself plainly last weekend, it will need to be intact again tonight to fight through the inevitable adversity Portland will provide.

“Never give up,” said point guard Dennis Schröder. “Play together as a unit and just compete out there.” 

In order to get over the hump against the Blazers and clinch a third win against the division rival, the Thunder will have to do an excellent job corralling Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on the perimeter. That entails the Thunder’s guards and big men converging up at the level of the screen in pick and roll, with centers like Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel holding up the action long enough for guards like Russell Westbrook and Terrance Ferguson to get back in front of the ball. Portland’s ball-dominant guards combine for over 47 points per game, and both shoot exactly 36.6 percent from three-point range. Getting hands in their faces is critical tonight.

“The contested-ness part for us matters,” said Donovan.

“I try to keep my hands up at all times and don’t give up easy fouls,” said Ferguson. “Then get a contest on the step back, that’s pretty hard to do. Just try to be there.”

Watch: Game Preview

On the offensive end, the Thunder wants to continue playing with balance, ball movement and tempo. Recently Westbrook and Paul George have been able to playmake and distribute at such an elite level that the Thunder is generally getting at least 5 and sometimes 6 different players into double figures scoring the ball each night. Westbrook has been the main orchestrator this season, dishing out 11.2 assists per game on the year compared to just 4.6 turnovers, for a 2.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

“A lot that falls on my hands to be able to get those guys shots,” said Westbrook. “I try to find ways to make the game easier.”

In crunch time, Westbrook and George have been able to play off of one another at an elite level. George has buried two game-winning three-pointers this season, while Westbrook slashed into the lane for a game-winning layup against the Houston Rockets on Saturday. In the closing seconds, George iced the game with four straight foul shots, a place where he’s been money all year long, shooting 83.6 percent on the year and in the final minute of games, he’s shooting 95.5 percent. If the Thunder needs someone to finish off the Blazers tonight, the fans in Chesapeake Energy Arena better be hoping that George is at the stripe.

“He’s a really, really good basketball player, so if I got my money on anybody at the line, I’m putting it on PG,” grinned Terrance Ferguson.

1-on-1: Deonte Burton


- As of Monday afternoon, it seems that Jerami Grant will not play for the Thunder, meaning even more pressure on the Thunder’s rim protectors to prevent easy driving lanes to the bucket. With the pressure that Lillard and McCollum create on a defense, the Thunder will have to be communicative and disruptive at the point of attack to get the ball into non-playmakers’ hands.

  • “They have a real good backcourt that we’re going to have to stay disciplined with, close out on the shooters and make sure we’re communicating on the defensive end because they have some sets that can put you in a doozie,” said Noel.
  • “Trying to change their decisions, not too many gambles,” Noel continued. “They’re guys who can get through the seams and find guys and create. Lillard and McCollum, we’re definitely going to have to get out there on the screens to change their direction and make them uncomfortable.”

- Heading towards the All-Star Break, one thing is clear. This Thunder squad has incredible camaraderie and is joyous when it takes the court. Even for players who haven’t been here long, the Thunder experience is one that can galvanize the love for the game in a unique way.

  • “It’s fun. I’m having fun playing basketball,” Noel said. “Guys are so enthusiastic. We have leadership in the locker room. Guys want to come here and play basketball every day and look forward to winning games and have a direct mentality. It’s all I’ve ever dreamed of playing the NBA. It’s ideal right now. There’s a goal and there’s something that you’re playing towards. It makes the most sense to me and gives me a purpose every time I step on that court.”


-       Tonight, Westbrook stands on the precipice of history as he goes into tonight’s game with 9 consecutive triple-doubles. That mark ties the all-time record set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, meaning that Westbrook has a chance to hit the record books tonight. By the way, the Thunder is 102-24 (.810) when Westbrook registers a triple-double.

  • “[50] years since somebody did it,” said Donovan. “Just to show you how hard it is to do and how unique of a player that he is to be able to do it. He comes out and competes every single night.”
  • “It’s not even surprising no more,” Ferguson quipped. “The type of caliber player he is, it’s so easy for him. You don’t notice it but it’s there. His teammates, he gets everybody involved. He’s a great leader.”

-       With the Thunder and Alex Abrines mutually parting ways so that Abrines can focus on his personal issue, there are now more opportunities available in the Thunder’s second unit to fill minutes. On Saturday, forward Deonte Burton, the Thunder’s first-year two-way player, filled the role quite nicely. Burton played 10 minutes, grabbed 3 rebounds and dished out an assist on a baseline drive. On the season, Burton is averaging 2.7 points, 1.1 rebounds in 8.2 minutes in the 18 games he’s played.

  • “It was a good learning experience for him. He gave us good minutes. There was some physicality for him on the offensive glass,” said Donovan. “I give him credit. He went out there in that third quarter early and gave us a nice boost and a nice lift. He switched and defensively did some good things for us.”

-       Thunder rookie guard Hamidou Diallo was assigned to the Oklahoma City Blue on Sunday, where he scored 21 points while making three three-pointers, to go with 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in 29 minutes of action.


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