OKC’s Resilient Bounce-Back Effort
Falls Short in Final Minutes
Game Recap: Thunder 104, Trail Blazers 115
The Thunder’s resilience was on full display in its matchup against Portland on Tuesday. After falling behind by as many as 24 points, OKC locked in on the defensive end and mounted a massive comeback to put itself in position to win in the final frame.
It started at the end of the second quarter. Portland’s offensive momentum that had built up a lead of as many as 24 points in the first half suddenly stalled. There was a shift in momentum as the Thunder went into the locker room at intermission trailing by 14. The defense locked in to stifle the Blazer’s 3-point looks; tough Thunder drives to the rim ended up in buckets or foul shots; the comeback had been set into motion.
“I thought our defense really clamped down they played with great energy,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault.
The defensive end was the catalyst. After allowing 34 points in the first quarter and toiling to put together consistent offense, the Thunder found its stride by getting stops and getting out on the run. Thunder defensive ace Lu Dort matched up with Portland’s MVP candidate in Damian Lillard and not only defended at a high level to force a 1-of-11 shooting performance from the 3-point line through the first three and half quarters, but also drew timely charges and led the Thunder in scoring with 23 points.
With Lillard’s shooting on ice, the Thunder’s comeback effort continued with the added energy of Isaiah Roby who made his presence known on both sides of the floor on Tuesday. The second year forward wrangled in 10 rebounds as he played in the lineup alongside Al Horford who worked to keep Portland’s offensive rebounding juggernaut Enes Kanter off the glass. Roby took advantage and finished with a 11-point, 10-rebound double-double.
“[Roby’s] effort was great. Roby really was just everywhere,” said Horford. “Just playing with a lot of energy. It’s always great to see him just come out and be assertive and he really gave us a big boost especially in the fourth. I felt like he was really good for us.”
“Al did a really good job of keeping [Kanter] off of glass and then it was kind of my job to go in there and clean it up,” said Roby. By the end of the third quarter, the Thunder trailed by 14 points, but its defense had lit the fuse that started an offensive flame in the fourth quarter.
OKC opened up the final frame on a massive 23-4 run that would ultimately erase the Blazers’ once-comfortable 24-point lead. Included in that run was a 3-pointer from Lu Dort which gave the Thunder its first lead of the game since the eight-minute mark of the first quarter.
With five-and-a-half minutes still remaining on the clock, the Thunder looked to expand its lead with a baseline drive from Hamidou Diallo (who finished with 17 points) that pushed the margin to two possessions before Portland head coach Terry Stotts called a timeout.
Lillard, who was a mere 1-for-11 from the 3-point line up to that point in the game, came alive out of that timeout. The Blazers’ leading scorer sank dagger after dagger of highly contested, deep-range 3-pointers to eliminate the margin and regain the lead. Lillard’s outburst of four made 3-pointers in the final frame led to a 12-0 Portland run as the Thunder’s 3-point shooting dried up to close the game.
“The shots he made obviously are bombs and he can make them, but you don't have as much control over those and so I thought Lu did a good job,” said Daigneault.
Play of the Game
Dort’s defensive prowess played a massive role in the Thunder’s comeback efforts on Tuesday. The sophomore guard sniffed out a lazy pass at the top of the key and burst into transition with Anfernee Simons closing in looking to make the contest. Simons was no match for Dort who had already logged two and-one finishes in the game. Dort elevated a jammed home the dunk despite the contest from Portland’s second-year guard.
Stat of the Night24
There have been many examples this season of the Thunder’s resilience, level-headedness and fight but overcoming a 24-point deficit, what would have been the third largest margin in OKC history, is one of the largest demonstrations. Being able to course-correct in the game, make adjustments on the fly and execute at a high level all played critical roles for OKC as it put itself in a position to win in the fourth quarter.
“Just having competitive guys and resilient guys that keep playing,” said Daigneault. “Down by 24, you give yourself the best chance when you have players of that character and I think that, those are the types of players that I know we try to identify here and it's the type of guys we have in this locker room.”
Quotes of the Night
“This group of guys that we have here – we're never gonna give up, no matter what we're down.”
“Our guys, we just continued to stay resilient, continued to fight even though things were going really well for them. For most of the game, we stayed encouraged we stayed together, and we kept fighting.”
Tuesday’s game was the first night of a road-home back-to-back for the Thunder. OKC will not head to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies at 8 p.m. CT on Wednesday before travelling to Milwaukee for a second meetup with the Bucks in a matter six days.