Loose Balls, Tough Shots Leave Thunder with Loss – OKC 105, POR 108.

The Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd rose as Carmelo Anthony emerged from the scrum under the Thunder’s defensive basket. The NBA’s 19th leading scorer All-Time pushed it up the floor and lined up a three-pointer. He was just 3-of-12 at the time, but with just 3 seconds left on the clock, all 18,203 saw Anthony’s jumper arcing directly towards the heart of the basket. It hit back iron, and the Thunder fell to the Portland Trail Blazers 108-105.

“I got a good look at that shot. Missed it,” Anthony said. “Can’t ask for a better look than that.”

The final result came down to a trio of factors, well beyond Anthony’s miss, or his two misses from three-point range three-and-a-half minutes beforehand. In fact, the Thunder shot just 2-for-9 down the stretch, with a turnover also after leading 101-98 with 4:13 to go.

On the other hand, the Blazers continued a trend that persisted throughout the night of making difficult, contested shots. CJ McCollum was the main perpetrator of tossing in daggers, firing jumpers while falling away, after spinning and while stepping back to evade contesting defenders. In addition to a brutal corner three-pointer by Damian Lillard with 40.8 seconds to go, McCollum buried an 18-footer with 19.1 seconds left even with Russell Westbrook blanketed all over him.

“We played great defense on a lot of possessions,�� forward Paul George said. “Tough shots.”

Many of the 58 combined points that Lillard and McCollum racked up wouldn’t have even been possible if the Thunder as a whole took care of business in one crucial area: defensive rebounding. The Blazers racked up 18 offensive rebounds that led to 21 second chance points. Lillard’s clutch three-pointer came off of a McCollum missed 28-footer after Paul George made a deflection that forced a challenged shot. Throughout the game, the Thunder had a hard time tracking loose balls off of the 34 three-pointers the Blazers launched.

“They keep you moving and then they shoot a bunch of threes. A lot of times their threes turn into long rebounds,” Anthony explained. “Sometimes we’re out of position, being engaged with our man running around. Then they attack the offensive glass.”

Those extra efforts were an issue right from the get go, as the Thunder trailed 14-2 before calling a timeout to try to get the ship righted. The shooting woes for the Thunder started right away as well, as it went 0-for-7 from the floor immediately after tip-off. It wasn’t until early in the second quarter, with the Thunder’s bench unit in the game, that the tide started to turn. Down 38-20 with 10:22 to go, the Thunder called timeout and burst out to a 25-6 run to take the lead for the first time.

Raymond Felton got the stretch started off with a three-pointer and a long two after a Patrick Patterson steal, but it was forward Jerami Grant that really brought a dynamic punch that was much needed for Oklahoma City. Grant scored on a pair of driving layups plus a wing three-pointer during the second quarter, racking up 11 of his 17 points in the first half alone.

“We just had to pick up the energy,” Grant said. “Coming off the bench, sometimes the first thing we need is to spark a little energy. I think we came in and tried to turn things around.”

“The crowd has been great, the fans are great here they lift us up a lot by getting loud and being in tuned into the game,” Felton added.

The Thunder second unit’s rally was critical to getting the game back to an even keel, and set up a back-and-forth second half where neither team held a lead larger than 3 points over the final 17 minutes of action. In the end, it was those pesky second chances, and a huge discrepancy between the Thunder and Blazers’ overall shot making, that made the difference.

“We are still playing good basketball,” George noted. “We did a great job defending them. It’s a tough team to guard with how well they move it and their guard play. If we make a couple shots, this game is a different story.”

Highlights: Thunder vs. Trail Blazers

By the Numbers

7-for-14 – The Blazers’ shooting numbers on non-paint two-point jumpers, the type of shots the Thunder wants to force

21-10 – The Blazers’ advantage in second chance points in the game, as it scored on 10-of-16 opportunities

36 – Points scored by the Thunder’s bench, including 17 by Jerami Grant

The Last Word

“We know this was going to be a tough stretch. We knew that, going into the winning streak, coming out of losing a couple now. We knew we were going to have a tough finish and we were going to need every game. That’s still the outlook we have now.” - forward Paul George