Game Recap: Thunder 131, Trail Blazers 120

The Thunder wrapped up its short runway to the regular season with an emphatic 131-120 win over the Trail Blazers on Tuesday. In the Thunder’s final dress rehearsal before the resumption of the season, Head Coach Billy Donovan used the opportunity to test out different player combinations and lineups as the team swept its three scrimmage contests, 3-0.

Playing without Chris Paul as he rested in the final matchup of the abbreviated preseason, Coach Donovan employed a starting lineup that replaced Paul with Andre Roberson. In the previous two games, Roberson saw a total of 27 minutes of action which came primarily from the second half. Against Portland, Coach Donovan wanted his defensive-minded guard to get a few reps against some of the league’s top-tier players such as Portland’s Carmelo Anthony.

“I feel really good about where he's at physically. He's held up very well through these first three weeks and that's been really encouraging and positive,” said Donovan. “I'm just praying and hoping that this continues on like he's doing right now because I think if it does he's there's no question he can be an important piece to our team and he can help contribute.”

The Thunder got off to a shaky start at the top of the scrimmage. In the first five minutes, the Thunder committed five turnovers which caused an engine stall for the squad on the offensive side of the ball.

With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander taking over primary ball-handling responsibilities, a role that he has rarely seen this season with the presence of Dennis Schröder and Chris Paul, it took a few possessions to get into a groove. Once he got the gears going, Gilgeous-Alexander began to actively seek out the mismatch between him and Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic off of ball screens. It was an action that resulted in multiple step back 3-pointers for the second-year guard.

“I was just taking what the defense was giving me. They didn't switch to start the game, and I was able to get downhill and skip pass and pocket pass and whatnot,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Then they started switching to contain a little bit and I just had to exploit that defensive scheme.”

The remaining 43 minutes was a completely different story for the Thunder as a collective. What began as an early 19-2 run ballooned into a runaway victory in the next three quarters. The Thunder only turned the ball over four times for the remainder of the game and in conjunction, the defensive intensity took a sharp turn for the better.

The prowess of Roberson caused issues for Portland’s Anthony and the Thunder’s big men in Steven Adams and Mike Muscala dominated the paint battle against Portland’s massive frontline of 7-footers with Hassan Whiteside, Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. After struggling against Philadelphia’s size on Sunday, the Thunder outscored Portland 48-40 in the paint.

The Thunder doubled-down in its high-motor offense against Portland with a great showing from behind arc. After two scrimmages where the Thunder struggled from deep, the floodgates opened on Tuesday with the Thunder shooting 51 percent from downtown on 20 makes of 40 attempts which would have broken the Thunder’s regular season record for the most 3-pointers in a game. For Darius Bazley, the formula for success was extremely simple: “We got good looks, we put them up and they went in.”

The main encouragement for Coach Donovan was seeing his bench and his reserves make an impact with their time on the floor. With this final tune up before the regular season, Coach Donovan looked to ensure every player on his roster was engaged and ready to go for August 1. The Thunder bench outscored Portland’s reserves 85-54 thanks to players like Mike Muscala (10 points), Hamidou Diallo (17 points) and the Thunder’s leading scorer Darius Bazley who notched 20 points on 3-5 from the 3-point line.

“I thought was very important that we keep the whole entire team engaged,” said Donovan. “We have a full complement of players and we need all of them to be able to help and contribute… we need to make sure that they're in a position where if something does happen, we're all in the mindset that we've got a job and a role to play in supporting and helping the team.”

In regards to his high-scoring performance, a couple of Bazley’s teammates joined in on his post-game press conference to squeeze in a question of their own. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander inquired how it felt for the rookie to notch 20 points in the scrimmage.

“Feels good to know that my hard work is paying off,” Bazley seriously before his face curled into a smile as he jabbed at his teammates.

“Feels good to feel like Shai and Chris for one night.”

The next matchup for the Thunder will count toward the standings in the long-awaited matchup against the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz. With the scrimmages now in the rearview, the Thunder has a clear picture of where it stands in terms of execution and different areas of improvement in the four days leading up to August 1.

“I think we're in pretty good shape. We definitely still have things that we need to work on. These scrimmages, they don't count. Now we're going into something that does,” said Bazley. “So every game is going to matter whether it's just the seating play, and then when we get to the playoffs. Like I said, we did some good things we did some bad things but I think we can still grow.”

“Guys have put in the work through the hiatus,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Obviously it’s not the easiest thing to do. It's easy to relax and chill out because the whole world's in a pause. But we have a group of guys that want to get better and have goals and aspirations and they worked over and then you can see it in how they play.”

Watch the broadcast on FOX Sports Oklahoma at 2:30 p.m. CT on August 1.