Dec 31, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) handles the ball while being defended by Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson (15) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Trail Blazers Play From Behind, Tighten Defense to Top Thunder 98-94

 

The Trail Blazers played a difficult first three quarters, falling behind by as many as 16 and often looking very much like a run wouldn’t be in the cards, and instead surprise everyone to come back and win it 98-94.

In a game when the Blazers went a putrid 8-33 from deep, their defense tightened at the right time to give them a chance to get back and win it. Most of the game, it looked like Portland was playing in quicksand trying to put on a run, and a Thunder win looked all but pre-ordained. I imagine it would be very, very hard to be an OKC fan right now. The Blazers flat-out earned this win, though. After a number of bad Blazers outings, it was nice to see.

The 25-7 Trail Blazers get some rest before facing the 14-18 Charlotte Hornets Bobcats in Portland on Thursday, January 2nd at 7 p.m.

 

Players

LaMarcus Aldridge was hot early, then cooled off but hit some timely free throws when the Blazers offense was floundering. He finished with 25 and 14 with 2 blocks in a “ho-hum, another All-Star level performance from him” kind of game. He wasn’t dominant, but without him a win would have been impossible.

Damian Lillard struggled through a tough shooting night, going 6-15 but 4-10 from three for his 21 points. He also had 11 assists and 6 rebounds. He was sneaky good, but like Aldridge he never had a dominant stretch in this one, save for a pair of threes in the third quarter which ended in one of many disappointing halted runs.

Wesley Matthews finished with 16-7-7; another impressive line that was gaudier than it looked considering he contributed to Portland’s woeful outside shooting by going 2-9 from deep. He worked hard and you were glad to see him out there, but he had absolutely no business guarding Durant… pretty much ever.

Nicolas Batum had an atrocious shooting night, going 1-7 from three and getting “just” 15, but failed to contribute in the other usual ways. He has not really looked like himself lately. One hopes there’s not some hidden, nagging injury he’s dealing with. More likely it’s just one of his down spells he sometimes finds himself in.

Robin Lopez worked hard, but didn’t come up with the gaudy number of offensive rebounds we’ve come to expect from him. He had just 12 points and 5 total board (2 offensive), but took up a lot of space… the ball just didn’t bounce his way.

Mo Williams has not made me feel happy thoughts when he’s on offense. 2-7 for 5 points tells the story better than words can.

 

Notes

  • Mike Rice made no secret that he does not like official Leon Woods. Near the start of the game, Rice called Woods a “rookie” official, and when Mike Barrett corrected him, Rice replied “he officiates like a rookie.” Later on, Rice suggested that Woods called a defensive foul on Mo Williams that should have been a charge on Derek Fisher, saying that Woods “should be in Chicago bogarting people on the street corner. Then near the end of the game, Matthews was clearly goaltended without a call, and Rice said, “Leon Woods said it definitely wasn’t [a goaltend], so you know it was.” Hilarious stuff from Coach Rice.
  • Earl Watson made a brief appearance, perhaps because Mo Williams had three early fouls, and got an offensive rebound in 2 minutes.
  • Serge Ibaka got a technical after jawing with Joey Crawford, pretty much the last referee living or dead that you’d ever want to mess with.
  • Credit the Blazers for winning this one through defense and not hot shooting. Take that, Sir Charles.

Recap

The first three quarters were pretty much forgettable, but both teams started hot. Aldridge was on fire, going 4-5 with 8 points just 4 minutes into the game. But the Thunder rode Kevin Durant, who went 8-12 with 22 points in the first half, and forced the Blazers into poor perimeter looks. The result was a 30-24 lead after one and a 54-42 lead at the half for Oklahoma City.

Every time the Blazers went on a run, Oklahoma City had a response, and a Thunder 7-point lead felt a lot more like 20. Portland was an astonishing 3-19 from three going into the third, and it didn’t feel like it was going to get much better. Portland missed 7 straight in the third quarter, and only a heroic stepback long two from Batum to pull the Blazers to within 7 gave them any hope at all at the break.

Then came the fourth quarter… well, at least the last 2/3 of the fourth quarter. Facing that familiar 7-point deficit, the Blazers said “screw this noise,” refusing to play the part of the downtrodden hero who gets bested and instead playing more like an underdog fighting for their career. They cut it to 5 on an Aldridge jumper, marking the first time since the second quarter that they had been that close.

Then Batum cut it to three. Then Aldridge cut it to 1, capping a 10-0 Blazers run with 5:40 to go in the game. The Thunder looked up and realized they hadn’t made a bucket in nearly five minutes. After a Thunder bucket, four Blazers free throws gave the Blazers their first lead since they were up 20-17 in the first quarter, and the defense looked much closer to “good” than “I’ll wave a hand in his face and hope he misses.”

Oklahoma City didn’t help their cause by missing some untimely free throws. Down the stretch, Reggie Jackson missed just his fifth and sixth free throws of the entire year (you read that right), and Serge Ibaka missed one too.

The game was all but over when Damian Lillard grabbed an offensive rebound with the Blazers up three, but Thabo Sefolosha picked his pocket and was fouled to cut the lead to 1 from the freethrow line with less than 24 seconds to go.  Mo Williams was fouled… and he missed the first. So he stepped up and… missed the second as well! But Aldridge and Lopez fought like they were saving their son from drowning to tap the ball around long enough to Wes Matthews to corral it, and Wes Money calmly sank two to push the lead back to three.

In the final seconds, Durant made the first of two free throws, missed the second, but got the rebound and had about as clean of a look as you could hope for. It rimmed off, Lillard hit two, and the Blazers, up 4, allowed Durant a wide-open three which did not drop to give you the final margin of 98-94. It’s worth noting that of Durant’s 37 points, just one of them came in the pivotal fourth quarter.

 

 

Tags: Kevin Durant LaMarcus Aldridge Portland Trail Blazers

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