Recent losses might caused some to think that the momentum pushing the Portland Trail Blazers forward this season might have slowed down. However, another impressive performance from LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard led them to a 98-94 road victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, showing that things are quite open in the battle for the top spot in the Western conference.
Aldridge wasn’t at his most efficient, but he did score 25 points and added 14 rebounds, handling himself quite well against the defense of Serge Ibaka. Damian Lillard added 21 points and 11 assists, as the Blazers had all their starting five players scoring in double figures.
It wasn’t all smiles throughout the game. Kevin Durant was close to unstoppable during the first half, finishing with 37 points (16 in the first quarter), forced to do pretty much everything for the Thunder while Russell Westbrook is out with his knee problems. It might have worked in the first two games without him, but Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb can’t be counted on to be consistent offensively or provide the distraction Westbrook does when he’s on the floor.
The Thunder did lead by as much as 16, but the excellent defense they played early on stopped being effective as the screens on the perimeter by the Blazers started paying dividends, creating open shots from Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, who did horribly (combined 3-of-16 from beyond the arc) for most of the game. Batum’s bigger heroics were on defense.
Kevin Durant scored just one point in the fourth quarter, as the usual simplistic offense Scott Brooks has no plan of changing went to Durant and Durant only, making it easy even for a bad defensive team like the Blazers to figure things out. Durant had a chance to tie the game with five seconds left on the clock with the Blazers leading by two, but missed a mid-range jumper as he was pulling away from the unprepared defenders.
My teammates told me if I was contested that I probably would have made the shot. I’m sure that’s going to replay in my mind for the rest of the night. I wish I could have hit that for my team. We probably would have been in overtime right now.
The Blazers don’t usually get too much credit for their defense but they did keep the Thunder on only 16 points in the fourth quarter, getting a big block from Joel Freeland, excellent on ball defense from Batum and even Aldridge stepping up and doing a lot more than usual.
The Blazers saw their streak of 100 points in a game (16 games) end, shooting only 39.6% from the field and 24.2% from beyond the arc. However, this team is learning new things about themselves each day, which includes the ability to finally win in Oklahoma City after losing three straight road games to the Thunder, while improving their close-game repertoire, improving to 16-3 in games decided by 10 points or fewer, the best win percentage in those games of any team.
The better teams in the league, a lot of times, they don’t lose two in a row. They hardly ever lose three in a row. We knew that that’s not something we wanted to deal with, losing three in a row, especially after two heartbreakers. We defended a lot better, we were focused and we knew what we needed to do coming in. We just kept with it and grinded it out.