Good golly Miss Molly can the Thunder play some defense. I think when watching them at other times I just took them for granted and it wasn’t until I watched them take away everything I knew the Blazers liked to do that I fully appreciated how good the Thunder are. You can’t exactly give them all the credit for Portland shooting 3-of-20 behind the arc, but allowing 77 points on 40 percent shooting is no mistake.
Kevin McHale was spot on about this all night, but the Thunder literally swarmed to and from the ball. Every movement from the Blazers resulted in an equal and opposite reaction from their defenders. When LaMarcus Aldridge touched the ball in the post, three guys moved towards him. When he passed out, they returned to their stations. Eventually, Aldridge wasn’t even getting the ball in the post because Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green were simply moving him aside and the other perimeter players were hampering entry passes with the simple threat of invading passing lanes.
It all created an atmosphere of paranoia and confusion that kept the Blazers scrambling to run through their options and get open looks. On occasion the Blazers beat the D with fluid passing — such as the play when all five Blazers touched it within seconds, resulting in an Andre Miller drive and dish — but too often the open options were No.’s 3 and 4, resulting in short shot clocks and bailout shots. The Blazers made their run, but the Thunder kept it at just that.
We’re talking mostly about Oklahoma City because, well, there just isn’t that much to say about the Blazers. We could go on about the lack of players for the umpteenth time, but it doesn’t matter. As well as the Thunder played, you can’t give them credit for all 24 (!)…..(!) of Portland’s turnovers. A careless pass here, an awkward dribble there and the counter just kept ticking upward. There will be rare nights when the Blazers can overcome such inefficiency, but not when they suffer such lifeless first quarters as they did tonight. But really, what Oklahoma City did better than anything else is take away whatever magic the Blazers have had over the last month or so. In some ways they showed us the Portland team the glass-half empty crowd thought we would be seeing in December. We’re lucky it’s taken so long for someone to reduce them to a collection of mis-matched individual talents. Let’s just hope we don’t have to see it too many times again.
Finally, we’ll forgo individual thoughts to focus on a few players. The first, LaMarcus Aldridge: He got pushed around. He was rendered completely ineffective in stretches of the second half. And yet I wasn’t all that perturbed by what I saw. Aldridge needed to fight for more post position — at times he seemed to give up on it completely — but even when he found a good spot the Blazers had trouble working it in to him. Had Brandon Roy been around to draw some attention, it might have still been a similar story with how OKC was defending, but I imagine there would have been some difference. And 15 boards, 4 assists and 4 steals should not go unmentioned.
Nicolas Batum got off to a rough start but found some energy later in the first half and extended it to the rest of his team. He looks every bit the starter, but the thing to keep an eye on with him the rest of his season is his free-throw rate. Andre Miller provided the pulse after Batum gave the team a bit of a shock, but Dante Cunningham deserves special mention for his 14 and 6 in doing an excellent job finishing plays.
Phoenix may be the worst team for the Blazers to face tomorrow if they have as much energy as they did today, but it also may be a perfect matchup for how little defense the Suns play. Either way, with a heart shove from the Thunder, the Blazers made it abundantly clear that they need the All-Star break desperately, just like nearly every other team in the league.