It’s enough to make you sick really. For the second time in two weeks Portland has dropped a close game to the Oklahoma City Thunder. This time was a lot like the last time; two evenly matched teams, a game coming down to one or two possessions, Portland unable to finish it off. I guess the one positive take away from Friday night is that this one was decided in regulation, we didn’t have to watch Portland melt down in OT. A second possible positive is that Russell Westbrook had to score a career high 36 points and Kevin Durant had to chip in with 34 points, and Oklahoma City still only won by two points. That’s a real stretch though, as far as the positives are concerned.
It is the humble opinion of this writer that the Blazers are a better team than the Thunder. They have a better bench, they have a more varied offense, and their front line is much better on both offense and defense. For some reason, though, they just can’t seem to get it done. Where can we look to find the answers? I would point first to perimeter defense. Russell Westbrook was getting into the lane too often. On one crucial possession late in the game he blew past Wesley Matthews for an easy layup. On the replay you could see Matthews looking around for help, the help was there but it was step too late. It makes sense that Matthews would be looking for the help, one possession earlier the same blow-by happened to Rudy Fernandez, and Marcus Camby erased Westbrook’s layup attempt. You know who remembered that possession? Russell Westbrook. He’s a future All-Star, and he isn’t going to let his layup get blocked two times in a row, I don’t care if the help-side defender is a former Defensive Player of the Year. With Joel Przybilla coming back soon the interior defense of the second unit will get sharper, but guarding around the three-point line HAS to improve.
A second thing that I noticed as Friday’s game wound down was the defense on Kevin Durant. With 3:20 remaining in the game Portland was leading 100-99, and the scoring champ from a season ago went on a personal 6-0 run. The Blazers were letting KD catch the ball inside the arc and face up. Two of Durant’s jump shots came within 17-feet. Nicolas Batum is a fantastic defender, he is going to be one of the best in the league maybe even this season, but when you let a guy with Durant’s length and disgusting amount of talent face up from any distance the only really effective defense is to hope he misses, or maybe kick him in the knee. Durant took the game over in the final minutes, after his little run OKC was up 105-100.
But like last time, it still wasn’t over. Portland got one stop, the aforementioned Camby block on a Westbrook drive, some hits from Brandon Roy and Batum, and a missed free throw by the otherwise automatic Kevin Durant, and Portland was moving up the floor with under 10 seconds to play and a chance to tie or take the lead. Andre Miller found Rudy Fernandez in the corner for a potential game winner, but alas it did not fall. In two games, Portland has lost to Oklahoma City by a combined three points. It doesn’t get much closer than that.
OK, I’ll give you one positive take away from Friday’s loss: Portland has only led for two quarters in the eight they’ve played so far against the Thunder. Even after that, if a few key shots went down for Portland, or didn’t for OKC, we could be talking about Portland being 2-0 against their chief rival from second best team in the Western Conference.
Some quick thoughts before we move on to the next game:
- Andre Miller played a fantastic game. He needs to be on the court a lot because he makes the Blazers a much, much better team. Miller finished Saturday’s game with 19 points and 10 assists. The play of the game for me came in the first half when Dre pivoted to make a move to hoop, got caught in mid air, chucked the ball off the backboard, then grabbed it in mid air, and laid it up. You could see that as soon as he left the ground Andre was going to pass the ball off the backboard to himself. It wasn’t a Tracy McGrady highlight dunk; it was old man hoops to the max. I would have liked to see Dre try for a layup to close the game and not a kick out to Rudy for the miss. Andre had Thunder defenders biting on his head fake all night, with all the adrenaline and excitement going through those guys at the end of the game, I bet he couldn’t even pulled off an And 1. That’s pretty wishful thinking though.
- Rudy Fernandez looked great, despite his un-clutch shot as the clock expired. He set a season high with 15 points, knocking down three of his five three-point attempts. Rudy is the beneficiary right now of Brandon’s decreased minutes, and he seems to be thriving. His last three games have been his best offensive outings of the season. Rudy was on the court a lot in the fourth quarter.
- Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are maybe one of the best one-two punches in the league. A few of the other guys stepped up for the Thunder on Saturday, Nenad Kristic was automatic from the shoulder on his way to 12 points, point totals matched by Serge Ibaka, and James Harden. But with those two guys running the show they’re going to get a lot of wins regardless of how the other guys wearing Thunder uniforms play.
- LaMarcus Aldridge had a chance to have a second big night in a row. He is a much better player than Nenad Kristic, but he was unable to take advantage of the opportunities he had. Aldridge finished with 10 points and five rebounds. In other non-Blazer news, former Lake Oswego Laker Kevin Love somehow managed to pull down 31 rebounds and score 31 points in the same game. If the Blazers want to compete with the elite teams in the NBA, LA should start watching Kevin Love game tape.
- I’m not going to say too much about Brandon Roy. ESPN’s crew fell all over each other in the opening part of Saturday’s game explaining how “Brandon didn’t look right.” Of course I disagree, Brandon said his knee felt fine, and the adjustments he’s making have a lot more to do with rotation issues and trying to get the rest of team to shoulder some of the offensive load. Brandon’s performance silenced Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson for awhile. Roy finished with 24 points in 35 minutes. He will adjust to the new minutes, and the team will be better for it. CAN WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE, PLEASE?
Portland moves on to play undefeated New Orleans on Saturday night. A win against the last unbeaten team won’t make Friday’s game go away, but it will feel good.
Check out Thunderous Intentions for OKC’s take on proceedings.