He might hate the fact that he’s always number 2, but Kevin Durant can’t expect to be considered the best player in the NBA and decide to take defensive possessions off in such a big game and such a big moment, leaving Nicolas Batum completely open to hit the most important shot of the game. On the other side, LaMarcus Aldridge, according to the Portland Trail Blazers fans, is the MVP. In the 111-104 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder he played like one.
Aldridge finished the game with 38 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists, shooting a remarkable 17-of-28 from the field. It was his ninth double-double and 15th game with at least 20 points this season, while he led the Blazers to an impressive third quarter comeback (35-21), helping the Blazers open a 7 point lead with 7:58 left. Russell Westbrook with a three pointer and Reggie Jackson from the line got the Thunder their final lead of the game before Aldridge got hot again, helping Portland open up a 105-100 lead.
Kevin Durant, who finished with 33 points, and Russell Westbrook (21) hit consecutive baskets to make it a one point lead again. But then came Nicolas Batum’s moment, hitting a huge three pointer to give the Blazers a 108-104 lead with 29 seconds left in the game, sealing the win.
MVPs don’t slack off on such a big shot, but Kevin Durant did. Nicolas Batum inbounded the ball and simply went around Durant via the baseline before setting up on the other end. By the time Durant realized the man he was supposed to be guarding had gotten away from him, it was too late. He did try and make a run for it, but he picked the wrong route, as LaMarcus Aldridge screened Ibaka from getting to Batum and moved into Durant’s path.
Durant, after the game, spoke about the tough shots the Blazers were making, and especially Aldridge, who kept hitting long 2’s from the corner over Ibaka or anyone else who was guarding him, but forgot to speak about how badly he himself did on defense. The Thunder aren’t built on Durant making defensive plays, but no championship is going to come if Westbrook and he keep adding moments of leisure to their defensive resume instead of actually focusing when they have to.
The Portland Trail Blazers are now 16-3, winning 14 of their last 15 games. Aldridge is playing like one of the elite players in the NBA, while the Blazers continue to provide plenty of support from their fantastic starting five: Batum and Damian Lillard with 14 points, while Wesley Matthews scoring 13 points and Robin Lopez surprising with 12 points.
The Thunder? Nothing has changed. A team that has no coaching or thinking while they’re on the court. Immense talent, maybe more than anyone else in the league, but it remains a team that keeps going to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook so they can make something happen with improvisation after improvisation, while hoping that Serge Ibaka is good enough on defense to make up for the stars’ laziness. When he has to pay attention to someone like Aldridge, it results in defeat.