Fight to the Finish Falls Awry – OKC 100, POR 108
PORTLAND – The stage was set for the same story the Thunder wrote in its three previous games. This time, the Portland Trail Blazers had some edits to the script.
The effort, the energy and intensity was there for the Thunder for all 48 minutes tonight, even in the third game in four nights on a long west coast swing. After the Blazers took control with a 17-2 outburst in the second quarter, however, each of the Thunder’s surges was rebuffed.
After cutting Portland’s 11-point lead to just three at 95-92 with 3:58 to go, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club looked poised to capitalize on some stout late defense and clutch time offense. Shots didn’t fall, and stops didn’t materialize, and it led to a 108-100 loss to the rival Blazers.
The Thunder defense was solid nearly all night, holding Damian Lillard to just 5-for-18 shooting and the Blazers as a team to 44.3 percent marksmanship for the game. Guard CJ McCollum and Evan Turner were the only ones who got loose for Portland, combining for 45 points on 16-for-30 shooting. The only other area that hurt Donovan’s club was second chance points, as the Blazers picked up 14 offensive rebounds for 15 points on those extra opportunities.
The Thunder defense was in scramble mode after forcing Lillard and McCollum off the 3-point stripe, and that left those pesky rotational boxouts, with guards trying to fend off bigs, as the last line of defense.
“Their range is unlimited so we had to push up, get out behind the three-point line, force them to drive, force our help to be there,” George said, explaining the overall strategy. “We just couldn’t let them get comfortable behind the 3-point line.”
“Once we got into that second quarter I thought there was some slippage there,” Donovan said. “When they started to gather up some of those second chance opportunities there in that second quarter it kind of broke our moment and gave them some momentum going into the half.”
Russ on spin cycle.pic.twitter.com/Ze6yJK92Pm
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 4, 2018
Laying in wait, continually testing the Blazers throughout the second half, the Thunder found its opportunity to strike. Late in the fourth quarter, Russell Westbrook and his compatriots (minus Carmelo Anthony who missed this game for a planned rest) attacked.
A 7-0 spurt was fueled by a Jerami Grant block, a hustle play by Paul George to track down a rebound and then a forced turnover by Steven Adams. As a result the Thunder sliced Portland’s 10-point advantage down to one possession. Donovan’s club forced a timeout after Westbrook hit an elbow jumper, but after the break, Portland snapped back into action.
McCollum hit a tough floater, then in the final 1:32, the Thunder struggled to put the ball in the basket, an issue that plagued the team all night. In those final 92 seconds, Donovan’s group missed four of five shots and turned it over. The final results for the night were similar, just 6-for-27 from the 3-point line for the game and 44 percent overall.
“It was just (not) getting stops when we needed to, obviously making shots is a huge part and just executing,” Westbrook noted.
“You know you’re not going to make every shot,” Westbrook continued. “Just keep attacking, stay with it and continue to play together.”
Brewer Makes His Debut
The past 72 hours for Thunder newcomer Corey Brewer have been quite the whirlwind, as the former Laker had to fly from Miami to Los Angeles, agree to a buyout, fly to Oklahoma City to complete the deal and then meet up with the team for the back end of this road trip.
Donovan’s former pupil at the University of Florida is an 11-year NBA veteran, and with Carmelo Anthony sitting out for rest tonight, the Thunder head man opted to get Brewer right into the mix. The lanky swingman was inserted in the first quarter, and ended up playing 12 minutes while contributing 2 steals, 1 rebound and 1 assist.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 4, 2018
“They threw me in the fire,” Brewer beamed. “Really just happy to be out there on the court. I have to calm down, keep my guy in front of me. I’m going to play hard every night and I can make things happen defensively.”
“Everybody has been nice to me. My teammates are great,” Brewer added. “Good group of guys and they’re hungry to win, so I’m happy to be here.”
By the Numbers
12 – Points for Patrick Patterson on 5-for-8 shooting as a starter in place of Carmelo Anthony
19-7 – The Thunder’s advantage in fast break points in the game, aided by turning 15 Blazers turnovers into 15 points
47-40 – The Blazers edge in rebounding in the game, including a 14-9 mark in offensive rebounds
The Last Word
“We didn’t shoot the ball great tonight, but we competed and we worked through it and we tried to give ourselves a chance.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan