Game 5 Rewind: Thunder Battles to the End
PORTLAND – Thirty-seven feet. 37. Over 13 feet behind the three-point line. Just inside and to the right of the Portland Trail Blazers logo, with the game clock winding down to nothing, Blazers guard Damian Lillard capped his historic 50-point night with the gut punch this game and series had earned: a 37-foot side-step three-pointer at the buzzer to finish off the Thunder’s 2018-19 season with a 4-1 first round series loss.
The final score of 118-115 took a winding road to arrive, but it landed with a splash as the red lights flashed from Lillard, capping a 13-3 closing run by Portland over the final 3:08 and an outrageous shooting performance from Lillard, who went 17-of-33 and made 10 three-pointers. None of Lillard’s makes came on catch and shoots. All of his shots were contested about as well as the Thunder could manage. It didn’t matter.
“(Lillard) just made big shots. Tip my hat to the shots he made, tough ones."
“We gave a really, really good effort. He made some tough shots. You gotta give him credit,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “The night he had, the shots that he made epitomized the last shot of the game. Those are the kind of shots he made throughout the first half. Some of them were really well defended. We worked hard.”
That hot shooting from the Blazers guard started right off the bat, but so did Thunder forward’s Paul George, who started the game 6-for-6 from the field and notched 20 first half points as the Thunder was a blistering 55.3 percent from the field. Lillard was a chore, however, as he scored an incredible 34 points in 24 first half minutes, mostly in isolation situations or while being trapped and always off of a few dribbles first. That type of shot-making has a high degree of difficulty, but the ball went through the net anyway.
“(Lillard) just made big shots. Tip my hat to the shots he made, tough ones. Contested, 35-plus-feet out, tough shots,” George said. “It was his night, he felt it, and knocked them down.”
The Thunder utilized Jerami Grant to defend Portland’s Center Enes Kanter with Steven Adams on forward Maurice Harkless. The effect was an ability to switch on Lillard with Grant or trap him with Adams, denying Portland the ability to get rolls for baskets at the rim or drive and kick opportunities for Lillard. Portland’s other players besides Lillard started just 5-for-15 shooting from the field and didn’t catch much of a rhythm until the second half.
“Rotations were good, we were doing some real good contests. They made some tough shots, Lillard especially,” said Adams. “We stuck to the game plan for a lot of the time, and also our scramble situations were pretty good.”
Much like it did in Game 4, however, the momentum started to turn late in the second quarter. Once again, George was saddled with 3 fouls and this time had to miss the final 5:45 of the half. Portland pounced, using an 11-2 burst as the Thunder missed three consecutive shots over the final few minutes of the half to take a 61-57 lead. George re-entered for the final play of the half and buried a three at the buzzer to give the Thunder the last word heading into the break.
The third quarter was a thriller, with both teams landing haymakers. First a 7-0 Thunder spurt to regain control, spurred by a Terrance Ferguson three-pointer and a Russell Westbrook to George transition bucket. Portland responded as the Thunder’s offense sputtered with missed shots and turnovers while Portland’s CJ McCollum, Enes Kanter and Lillard mustered a 14-2 extended run to build a 9-point lead with just over 3 minutes to go in the third period. Down 3-1 in the series the Thunder was really on the ropes, but its response was remarkable.
Out of a timeout the Thunder got a second chance three-pointer by Paul George, a jumper from Dennis Schröder and then a three from Grant, piling up a 15-2 run that turned into a 32-8 scoring advantage that spanned the first six minutes of the fourth quarter as well, while Lillard took his first rest on the bench of the night.
“We did a good job getting to the paint, making plays, finishing around the basket, getting the shots we wanted to,” said Westbrook.
Behind catch and shoot three-pointers from Westbrook and Schröder and some stout defense that forced Portland into 1-for-5 shooting and two turnovers, the Thunder took a 107-92 lead with 7:12 to go. Portland outscored the Thunder 26-8 the rest of the way. With 4 missed free throws, 5 turnovers and 5 missed shots in the paint in the fourth quarter, the Thunder missed out on opportunities to shut the door on this one to force a Game 6 back in Oklahoma City.
“We just kind of came up with some empty possessions,” said Donovan. “We just didn’t finish some plays to keep extending the lead.”
“We didn’t do the things we were supposed to do. We didn’t move the ball, what got us there, got us the lead,” said Schröder.
The door remained ajar, and all Lillard needed was a crack. Even if it was from 37 feet.