The Thunder fell behind 25-9 right out of the gates against an efficient Blazers squad in a runaway Portland win, but turnovers and second chances were controllable areas where OKC will look to improve upon moving forward.
The Portland Trail Blazers, now with its roster rounding back into fuller health, is a team that doesn’t need any easy buckets to help their cause. Already an efficient offense by prioritizing the 3-point line and having the ability to score at all three levels, Portland’s dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were aided by six Thunder turnovers in the first six minutes of action on Saturday night.
Those giveaways were a trend through the evening, as Oklahoma City committed 22 turnovers that led to 34 Portland points, though most of those turnovers were the kind borne from good intentions. Thunder drivers were trying to make a play to put pressure on the paint, draw fouls or kick out to the perimeter, but Blazers defenders had clogged up the paint, swiped down or anticipated the move.
“There’s a lot of different kinds of turnovers. There’s a lot of flavors on the menu,” said head coach Mark Daigneault. “The ones where we’re trying to do too much by either over-penetrating or trying to make a more complicated pass than we need to rather than the A and B pass, those are the ones you have to correct immediately and have less tolerance for.”
“Then there are ones that are just a byproduct of aggression. There’s one’s that are just tough plays. Those are ones that you have a little bit of a stomach for,” Daigneault added. “We’d like to be a team that moves the ball. There’s an exposure risk to passing. The more you pass the more likely the ball is to get deflected or the more likely you are to turn it over. We have to live with the trade-off of being a ball movement team but also clean up those ones that are pretty correctable.”
As the game went on, the Thunder showed flashes of learning from those situations, and even got a nice 11-2 flurry that was spurred by three straight sharp passes that knifed through Portland’s defense.
The first one came from Aleksej Pokuševski on a drive from the right side of the floor into the lane with his left hand. The 19-year-old playmaker whipped a lefty pass over his head to center Tony Bradley for an easy finish. On the next possession, rookie two-way wing Josh Hall zipped a laser of a pass to Bradley on a middle pick and roll, also with his left hand.
"I think those were great reads and great passes,” said Bradley. “The action that we ran back to back, we executed it well. Just great reads by those two."
Then after a Blazers turnover, Pokuševski rushed into the open floor attracted multiple defenders and fired a pass to Kenrich Williams on the wing for three to force a Portland timeout. That quick Thunder rush put Portland on its heels for a bit, but it wasn’t enough to make this one competitive.
Another quick spurt by the Thunder, a 4-0 start coming right out of the locker room at halftime, was quickly snuffed out by an 18-1 Portland run that put this one away for good early in the fourth quarter. New Blazers wing Norman Powell hit a top of the key three then followed it up by a transition bucket off a turnover.
A missed Thunder 3-pointer led to a goaltended Jusuf Nurkic shot, then Lillard and McCollum buried 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to drive Portland’s lead up to 30 points with 8:24 to go in the period.
Play of the Game
For the 12th time in the last 14 games, Kenrich Williams shot 50 percent or better from the floor, and he punctuated his 18-point, 7-for-13 shooting performance with a slick stop-and-pop midrange jumper in the fourth quarter. Williams started driving baseline, used a hard right to left dribble between his legs and let go of a fadeaway jumper, and got fouled in the process. He made the free throw for good measure.
“It’s trusting my work and just having that faith,” said Williams. “My teammates believe in me, the coaching staff believes in me and that makes the game so much easier, just knowing that those guys have confidence in you.”
Stat of the Night14
Rebounds for Moses Brown in the game to go with 10 points as part of his sixth double-double in his last 10 games for the Thunder.
Quotes of the Night
“When we have problems on the court, it’s important that we make sure we solve the problem with five guys. Not one single person is going to solve the problem. We’re going to solve the problem with five guys and that means using every single one of our teammates to our advantage.”–Moses Brown “We’ve competed much better than this most of the season. There’s always kind of ebbs and flows to the season. There’s times where things seem to be clicking and going well and then there’s times where no matter how hard you hit the gas, the engine doesn’t turn. The biggest thing is learning lessons through that and sticking together through that. The NBA season is trying and there’s a lot of ups and downs. The teams that can get stronger through these adversities and player that can get stronger through these adversities are the ones that thrive over time. We just have to make sure we’re internalizing these experiences, learning the lessons and allowing them to make us stronger.”
After an extremely quick road trip all the way to the Pacific Northwest, the Thunder will get a day off on Easter Sunday before returning to action for four straight home games in Oklahoma City, starting with Monday night’s tilt against the Detroit Pistons.