OKC could have spoiled Portland’s plans in front of the Thunder faithful but Thunder coach Billy Donovan made a crucial decision to leave Carmelo Anthony in the game down the stretch, despite him having a subpar performance
Which is why Donovan’s decision cost his team this highly important game, dropping their fourth of the season to the Trail Blazers, 108-105.
Names removed, only looking at statistics, two players combining on 7-of-28 shooting and 0-of-12 from three, you’d think they were plastered on the bench in crunch time. Names still removed, two players that combined on 9-of-14 shooting for 28 points, you’d presumably imagine them playing when the game matters most, right? But when you hear the names Carmelo Anthony and Paul George versus Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton, you’ll say the first duo should get the playing time.
Well, don’t judge a book by its cover. Grant and Felton are the two that had spectacular games while George and Anthony fell very short. Donovan, who’s known for sticking firmly to his regular rotations was predictable and did just that on Sunday evening by not riding the wave of Grant and Felton.
After being down 36-18 with 10:59 remaining in the first half, OKC’s second team took the court. Unexpectedly, a bench that borders the worst in the league was the team’s saving grace. A run led by Felton and Grant set the stage for Westbrook and company to regain the lead late in the half. On cue, when Grant left the floor, Portland started taking advantage of the Thunder again, ending the quarter on a minor 13-7 run to lead the Thunder by five at the half.
How did they keep exploiting OKC?
Second chance points. Portland outscored OKC 21-10 in that department and despite Steven Adams pulling down nine offensive rebounds, Yusuf Nurkic and Damian Lillard combined for nine that aided in those second-chance points.
No matter what run the second team went on to bring the Thunder back into contention, Donovan continued to stick with his starters in the crucial times. To be specific, Melo who simply wasn’t having his ideal game.
To make things worse, Melo’s poor performance was capped off by a turnover with eight seconds remaining in the game when the Thunder had a chance to tie or take the lead. Then, the last chance effort went south as well, after Anthony missed a jumper with three seconds remaining.
Not a knock on Melo, who’s obviously a large piece of the puzzle but if coach Donovan would’ve sat him in the final five minutes of Sunday’s game, the Thunder would be singing a completely different tune right now, looking at the third seed in the eye.
OKC now trails Portland by two games, which really means three since Portland holds the tiebreaker over them. They sit a half-game ahead of New Orleans for fourth in the Western Conference with six of their final seven games coming against playoff teams.