Last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated, for the fourth time this season, the Portland Trailblazers, 129-121 the final score after one overtime.
Every time these two teams have met this season, it has been a show. Yesterday evening hasn’t been an exception.
After a well fought first quarter, which ended with the Thunder leading by one point, the Blazers tried to push in the second twelve minutes. Portland indeed played better in the second quarter, but Oklahoma City was able to stay only one possession behind (58-61) at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Thunder played some solid defense. Oklahoma City struggled in the past couple of month in this aspect, but last night, after the break, this team showed how good they can be. The Thunder allowed the Blazers to score only twenty-two points and were able to take back the lead heading to the last twelve minutes.
Before yesterday, the Blazers were 1-23 when trailing after three quarters. However, led by an amazing Lillard’s performance (fifty-one points), Portland stayed in the game and answer bucket after bucket to every Thunder’s run.
The final of the regulation has been controversial. First Nurkic got ejected due to a double technical, then Labissiere (Nurkic’s substitute called by the Thunder’s bench) missed two free-throw, and finally, Morris fouled Aminu on the rebound attempt. Aminu will go ahead and make both free-throw to send the game to overtime.
In the extra five minutes of basketball, Russell Westbrook took over, scored eight points without turning the ball over once, and thanks to a solid defense (Ferguson huge block on McCollum), the Thunder were able to win another battle.
- Russell Westbrook, clutch
Russell Westbrook seems to have a special relationship with the Blazers. Every time is drama, amazing performances, and trash talking. Last night it checked all the marks:
- Trash talking? Sure, with Portland’s fans and with Nurkic
- Amazing performance? You bet, thirty-seven points (14-28 FG, 5-8 3PT, 4-6 FT), seven rebounds, three assists, and also eight turnovers.
- Drama? In Westbrook’s words: Why not? With the game in overtime, Westbrook took control, scored eight points and didn’t turn the ball over once, and led the Thunder to another big win.
- Paul George, on the way
It’s obvious that Paul George is still not 100% after the shoulder injury. His shooting is not in rhythm yet (7-23 from the floor, 1-9 from the three points line) but it’s definitely good that he is playing. It’s good because, besides his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor, his presence on the floor is helping the team. George’s final stat line against the Blazers: thirty-two points, fourteen rebounds, six assists, three steals, and three turnovers.
- Steven Adams, weird game
The Big Kiwi is certainly going through a tough stretch, but last night, I thought he has been very important for the Thunder in the second half especially. He finished the game with twelve points (6-11 FG), seven rebounds (five on offense), two steals, and two blocks. Steven does a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score, but his presence is and remains important for the Thunder’s success.
- Scoring in the paint, excellent
Oklahoma City didn’t shoot the ball well (or much) from the three points line. A total of eight made baskets on twenty-seven shots, good for a 29.6%. However, the paint is where the Thunder found their way against the Blazers. OKC outscored Portland 70-48 in the painted area. This is an incredible number, considering that the team’s average is just a little above fifty per game, 52.8.
- Defense, welcome back
The Thunder have been one of the best defensive team in the league for a long part of the season, but lately, they seem to have lost the fire on that end of the floor. It might be that Paul George missed some games, the All-Star break threw some chemistry out as much as the addition of Morris, or simply a lack of effort and interest. However, when OKC is locked in defensively good things happen, and last night has been another example. The Thunder won the game thanks to the team defensive performance. Sure, Lillard scored fifty-one points, but OKC held the Blazers to 39.4% from the floor and 22.0% from behind the arc. This is a good recipe for winning.
The Thunder will play again tonight, this time in Los Angeles against the Clippers. Another important match for the playoff run. Tip-off 9.30 CT.
Photos by Sam Forencich | Getty Images