Thunder Hosts Portland with a Collective, Five-Man Mentality
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
After three games on the road where the Thunder fell short after taking their opponent all the way to the final moments, OKC opened up its short homestand on Sunday with a victory over the Bucks in the closing minutes.
It came down to a collective effort and strong late-game execution for the Thunder to take down the number two team in the Eastern Conference. All five of the Thunder’s starters scored in double figures and combined for 89 total points. For the second straight game, it was Thunder forward Justin Jackson who led the way in the scoring column for the Thunder, this time backing up his season-high 20-point performance on Friday against Denver with a new high mark of 22 on Sunday. His final three points of the game would be the dagger that sealed the Thunder’s win with just 14 seconds left.
Although he’s set season-high marks in the past two contests, Jackson has stepped up in a big way over the Thunder’s last four matchups averaging 16.3 points on 56.5 percent shooting from the field and 55.6 percent from deep.
“I didn’t play much at the very beginning of the season, but for me I try to strive to be a true professional, always try to stay ready and take advantage of the opportunities that I have.” said Jackson in his postgame interview with FOX Sports Oklahoma.
Before Jackson’s game-altering 3-pointer, it was Thunder forward Darius Bazley who erupted offensively to keep OKC’s offense alive down the stretch. A block and a break-away dunk, a pair of driving finishes from the right wing and a drive and kick to Jackson for a wide-open 3-pointer all boosted Bazley to six points and three assists in the fourth quarter alone.
“To close out and to get a win feels good,” said Bazley. “We just got stops down the stretch and offensively just made the right pass and ball went in.”
This marks the second matchup between the Thunder and the Trail Blazers this season. In the first meeting in late January, OKC escaped Moda Center with a narrow three-point win in a collective, late-game effort. Mike Muscala led the Thunder in scoring with a season-high 23 points, but it was Damian Lillard who led all scorers with 26.
Like the last meetup, Portland will be without both CJ McCollum as well as Jusuf Nurkic due to injury, but Lillard has taken a jump in scoring since McCollum’s injury. The guard went from averaging 27.6 points in the 13 games with his backcourt mate to posting 30.6 points per contest in the 12 games since.
Portland’s offense has also been boosted by Carmelo Anthony who has scored 21 or more points in five of the Trail Blazers last seven contests, as well as Gary Trent Jr. who is averaging 19.7 points per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the 3-point line over the last 11 contests.
After facing the No. 2 and the No. 4 team in points per game in the Bucks and the Nuggets, the Thunder will go up against the Trail Blazers who hold the fifth spot in the category with 115.5 points per game. In its past two contests, the Thunder defense held the Nuggets and the Bucks to their season low in first half points and allowed just 103.0 points on average. All the while, OKC remained disciplined on the defensive end and limited both opponents to just 9.5 free throw attempts, the lowest amount allowed in the league over that time frame.
“We've had a nice sense of purpose on that into the floor,” said Daigneault. “We're really in a help mentality right now. We're in a five-man mentality and that's showing up.”
With another strong defensive start and the stamina to maintain ball movement late against Milwaukee, the Thunder is showing an ability to learn in real time.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 15, 2021
Stat to Watch
Threes — Contrary to what the Thunder have faced in its previous two contests, the Blazers average the fewest points in the paint of any team in the league and instead generate much of their looks through the 3-point line. Portland makes the second most triples per game (16.1) and shoot at the sixth-highest mark in the league at 38.5 percent.
Lillard is third in the league in 3-pointers made per contest averaging 4.0 per game on 38.2 percent shooting. Trent Jr. also cracked the top 15 in the category with 3.2 makes at a 44.7 percent clip.
Defending Portland will require urgent closeouts to the perimeter with strong contests to limit any easy looks. This has been a strength for OKC this season as the Thunder hold its opponents on average to the fifth-lowest 3-point shooting percentage (34.8) in the league.
For the last 10 days, the Thunder’s most consistent trend has been its ball movement on the offensive end. In that time frame, OKC has dished out a total of 166 assists on 256 field goals which is the most for any team in that time frame. However, there isn’t one consistent source of dimes in each game for the Thunder. Over the last three contests Hamidou Diallo, Kenrich Williams and Al Horford have all led the Thunder in assists. Most recently, Horford dished out a season-high nine assists on Sunday as the group recorded a season-high-tying 32 dimes in total. Every single player that touched the floor on Sunday for OKC recorded an assist. Numbers like that are an indication of a much larger, cultural principle for the Thunder that is showing up in the stat sheet.
“It’s just a team that is willing to play a style where the whole can be better than the sum of the parts. And when you do that, no one is focused on scoring and no one's focused on assisting we're just focused on using these possessions to explore the best shot,” said Daigneault. “These guys are just really playing for each other they're bought into the identity that we're trying to establish and I think the scoring balance and the assisting balance all that stuff is just an outcome of that.”