Game Recap: Thunder 119, Trail Blazers 106
After two consecutive games with slow starts, the Thunder threw the first punch on Saturday. Twelve first-quarter points from Chris Paul and an elite defensive performance from the young Thunder players kept OKC ahead all four quarters.
Chris Paul took the Thunder’s first quarter slumps into his own hands. Instead of his usual outburst in the fourth quarter of games (first in the league in clutch points), Paul jump started OKC’s offense with 10 points in the first five and a half minutes going a perfect 4-4 from the field and 2-2 from behind the arc.
“His tempo, his pace, the way he was playing, the pace and speed he was playing with, and how aggressive he was, really got us off to a good start,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “I thought we had good engagement on both sides of the floor.”
Portland’s point guard had the same idea. Damian Lillard, who notoriously lays low in the first half of games, played all twelve minutes of the first frame and paced the shorthanded Blazers with 11 points on four of seven from the field. By the end of the half, he notched 24 points on 7-12 from the field and 7-8 from the free throw line. This effort helped reel in the Thunder’s 13-point lead to seven going into the half as Portland edged the Thunder 32-33 in the second quarter.
The Thunder maintained a steady lead but struggled to pull ahead. Pesky fouls and missed shots left the window open for Portland to stay in the game. However, the Thunder’s defenders were still hard at work on Lillard. Luguentz Dort once again showed his defensive prowess and stayed chest to chest with Lillard denying passes and fighting over ball screens. In the third quarter, Lillard went 0-9 from the field, his only point coming off a made free throw.
“Lillard is obviously a great scorer. He’s seen all sorts of defenses,” said Donovan. “A lot of times when those guys shoot the ball, you’re at the mercy of whether they miss it, or make it. What you don’t want to do is foul them and give them free throws. I think our guys just kept battling and kept working.”
Behind contributions from every player to step on the floor, the Thunder pulled away to the tune of 13 points and gained some much-needed mojo heading into a two-game road stretch.
Several Thunder players reached milestones in Saturday’s game. Chris Paul finished the game tying his season high with 30 points. Nerlens Noel reached a new season-high 15 points and rookie Darius Bazley notched a new career high with 13 rebounds.
“We just have a pretty deep team and guys that can play basketball no matter the circumstances,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “Obviously, guys are behind certain guys and that’s how a team works but we feel like we’re a pretty deep roster.”
With just over three minutes left the third quarter, Portland managed to bring the Thunder lead to only four 77-73. From that point, OKC went on a 28-12 run into the midway point of the fourth quarter. Contributions from every player to step on the floor gave the Thunder its largest lead of the game. Whether it was scoring, drawing fouls or just being in the right place at the right time, each player made an impact on the game.
“A lot of those guys had open shots, and the ball didn’t go in the basket. A lot of times young players evaluate whether they play well or not based on the ball going in the basket,” said Donovan. “I wouldn’t say any of those guys got it going offensively, but they all impacted the game.”
Play of the Game
The play began and ended with Nerlens Noel. The 6-foot-11 center offered a second line of defense after Lillard shook free from Schröder on the right side of the floor. Noel cut him off on the sideline and with active hands, poked the ball free for Schröder to scoop up. On the run, Schröder swiftly spun past Blazers rookie Jaylen Hoard and pitched it ahead to Paul who was near the right block on the other end. Paul took one bounce to assess the situation before sending the ball airborne where only one man on the floor could possibly catch it – Nerlens Noel.
“I saw just a pure fast break,” said Noel. “I just wanted to keep trailing the play if it was a put back off of the shot, but I didn’t even know he was going throw it. I saw it flying up and I said ‘alright, that’s for me’ so I picked it up and did what I had to do.”
Loud City gets even LOUDER.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 19, 2020
Here’s why pic.twitter.com/m0vDaS3c7s
Stat of the Night64
Taking advantage of Portland’s thin frontline, OKC dominated the paint battle outscoring the Blazers 64-42. Twenty-eight of those points came from the point guard duo Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul who made aggressive drives to the lane and into the teeth of the defense. The duo showed off their ability to score in crafty ways around the rim with a combination of floaters and signature Shai Scoops.
“Just playing to our identity,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who scored 16 of his 18 points in the lane. “We have so many guys that can score down there that are effective, we’ve just got to use it every night and play to who we are.”
Point center Steven Adams finds Shai Gilgeous-Alexander pic.twitter.com/tDV3kQqP2p— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 19, 2020
Quotes of the Night
“We gotta comeout with the mentality to hit first so that’s what we did tonight. The starting group did a great job and everybody who came off the bench was ready.” -Dennis Schröder
“I think we were just playing freely. Getting back to moving the ball and just playing within our system. Coach had a good message before the game, just be ourselves and play how we want to play.” –Nerlens Noel
After three straight games in Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder hit the road for a two-game road trip beginning in Houston on Monday. From there, the Thunder will head to Orlando for the first and only time this season to face the Magic on Wednesday.