Game 4 Rewind: Thunder Goes to Portland Down 3-1
The missed shots piled up for Portland in lock step with the missed opportunities for the Thunder. The difference didn’t show itself on the scoreboard until the second half, but when it did, it cascaded down into a Blazers surge from which the Thunder never quite recovered.
An aggressive Thunder defense held Damian Lillard to an 0-for-6 shooting start to Sunday night’s Game 4 and used that fortunate dynamic to build a 7-point lead. Late in the second quarter however, with Paul George saddled to the bench with 3 first half fouls in 14 minutes, Lillard scored 5 quick points and then found Al-Farouq Aminu for a corner three-pointer to cap an 11-0 run to close out the half. The result was a 50-46 Blazers lead at halftime with Lillard entering the third quarter brimming with confidence and the Thunder never managed to regain the lead in a 111-98 loss.
“In the first half we weathered the storm a little bit with Paul picking up fouls. We really didn't close the half very well, kind of gave them maybe some momentum going into the locker room,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan.
“Definitely a momentum swing at the end of the first half,” added forward Jerami Grant. “At the same time, we have to come out and do better in the third quarter.”
Up until that late second quarter stretch, the Thunder had been living on jump shots as 12 of Westbrook’s 14 points came on jump shots. In the second half, those jumpers didn’t fall for the Thunder point guard, nor did they fall for those around him. Portland clogged up the lane, limiting the Thunder to just 30 field goal attempts in the paint and the Thunder made only 11 of them and was forced into 18 non-paint mid-range jump shots. Instead of getting the most desirable shots in the game, layups and catch and shoot three-pointers off drive-and-kicks and transition attacks, the Thunder missed out on the chance to take a larger lead early and left the door open for Portland to strike.
“We'll get in the flow, we'll get in the rhythm. The ball will find its way, we just have to keep at it."
Lillard, CJ McCollum and Aminu did exactly that, eventually getting their three-point strokes going to the tune of 13-for-26 combined in the game. That included three-straight makes by Lillard coming around screens to start the third quarter, when Portland swelled the lead to 19 points. George, who had to sit the final 9 minutes of the second quarter with fouls, struggled to find his rhythm while Westbrook also missed shots.
“(George’s foul trouble) definitely contributed. He’s a very good player, so we need him out there,” said center Steven Adams. “We still can’t use that as an excuse, if that makes sense. Still got to kind of lock down and what we got to do.”
Dennis Schröder was the counterpunch the Thunder needed to counter the rash of jump shots it had been taking. Instead, Schröder attacked downhill, got to the paint and helped the Thunder rattle off 8 straight points, including a George step-back corner three-pointer with 1.4 seconds left in the third to make it a game again.
“We got to move the ball. If it’s steady and try to make something happen off the dribble, then it’s tough,” Schröder explained. “They’re doing a great job playing Russ and PG, but I think the other guys who was on the floor got to be aggressive, got to get the ball, make a play for somebody else or finish.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 22, 2019
Just minutes later though the Blazers lead was back out to 18 thanks to a pair of McCollum three-pointers and the Thunder had to search for answers again. Donovan opted to try going small with Jerami Grant at the center spot, switching everything on the perimeter in hopes of clogging up Portland’s offense and jolting the Thunder’s transition attack. It worked, and the Thunder got three-pointers on kick-outs for George, Grant and Schröder to whittle the Blazers lead down to 101-94 with 1:25 to go.
“That is what we have to do when we are in a situation where we needed to make an adjustment,” Grant said.
It was was a long shot for a comeback and the Thunder needed everything to go right down the stretch to complete it. That didn't happen. After nearly forcing a turnover on Portland’s inbound pass, the Thunder couldn’t recover back in time to deny a layup by Mo Harkless. On the next trip downcourt, Westbrook missed a step-back corner three-pointer, capping an night where the Thunder hit 15 three-pointers but made just 37.5 percent of it’s shots overall, including 18-of-48 on two-pointers.
“They just packed the paint. That's how every team tries to guard us, load up on us," said George, who finished with 32 points on 8-of-21 shooting. “We'll get in the flow, we'll get in the rhythm. The ball will find its way we just have to keep at it."
The Thunder now has to re-group for an elimination Game 5 in Portland and will need complete efforts on both sides of the ball to bring this one back to Oklahoma City.