Feb. 2014 was the last time the Thunder beat the Portland Trail Blazers and after six-straight losses to Portland in general, Oklahoma City finally managed to pull out a 111-109 victory in the Moda Center on Friday night.
The seventh and ninth highest scoring offenses took the court and both came out firing. Paul George got off to a quick start and so did Portland’s Yusuf Nurkic.
Nurkic generally causes problems for the Thunder and Steven Adams is the one that takes the blow. In the first half, that’s the direction the narrative of this game was heading. By halftime, Nurkic confidentally walked off the court towards Portland’s home locker room confidently after scoring 16 points on Steven Adams in a relatively effortless fashion.
To worsen things for OKC, Adams wasn’t getting opportunities to score the ball either with only two unsuccessful attempts in the first 24 minutes. Westbrook and George were primarily to blame. They weren’t looking to create anything other than for themselves. OKC’s offense was reminiscent of last season and the only two guys producing in the first half was George, who had 21 and partially Westbrook, who scored 11.
Despite being out-assisted 18-9 and out-scored in the paint 32-22 in the first half, the Thunder found themselves down by only five points.
The third quarter was dull, until the 4:15 mark when the Thunder began their run. On cue, things began to turn around for the Thunder when Westbrook began attacking the rim, getting to the foul line and when Adams started getting touches around the basket.
A few of those sequences later, Oklahoma City was found their offensive rhythm but what made the game-changing difference was the moment Nerlens Noel entered the game at the 1:27 mark of the quarter with the teams tied at 87. In the final span of the quarter, Noel deflected three passes in the backcourt, displaying his impressive, yet deceiving speed and quickness, which resulted in four quick fast break points and a third fastbreak that left Schröder on the free throw line, where he connected on both. Noel fueled a 6-0 Thunder run to put them in the lead heading into the fourth, 93-87.
Did I mention that George and Westbrook combined for 25 points in that quarter on 12-of-19 shooting?
Those two free throws seemingly gave Schröder some confidence. After going 1-of-9 through three quarters, he started the fourth 3-of-4, scoring six points and putting the Thunder ahead by eight with nine minutes to play.
Despite some “Bird Box” caliber calls by the officials and the Thunder almost blowing a 10-point lead with four minutes remaining, the defense bounced back in the second half and only allowed 47 points on 38.4 percent shooting which was a massive improvement from allowing Portland 63 points on 51.1 percent shooting in the first half.
George continues his dominance with consecutive 37-point games and Westbrook got back to his scoring ways with 31 points.
The box score will boast what Westbrook and George did, but Nerlens Noel’s defense late in the third period, giving OKC a two-possession lead is what put OKC over the top to snap almost a five-year dry spell in Portland, OR.