Thunder 92, Blazers 106 Re-Thoughts


I know I said it didn’t matter how we won as long as we won, but while I stand by that, it felt really good to watch the Blazers shift to a higher gear and leave the Thunder behind. They weren’t that much more smooth, efficient or even pretty during that 16-2 run, the Blazers just went faster and harder. And that’s fine. Portland wasn’t going to fix its defensive problems in the week before the All-Star break, so they did their damage where its most important: the standings.

Fifteen turnovers doesn’t really tell the entire story of just how sloppy the Blazers were. Passes were being kicked out of bounds, balls stripped turned into fast breaks and easy rebounds were tipped to the sidelines. But the worst of it is twofold. The first major defect gave me flashbacks of the game in Boston when the Blazers made Ray Allen look like an Olympic sprinter and that was that the Thunder repeatedly beat Portland back for easy buckets, either though long outlet passes or simply speeding past jogging Blazers. The second is even more embarrassing, and that’s Russell Westbrook’s eight offensive rebounds. 6-foot-3 point guard Russell Westbrook’s eight offensive rebounds. It’s not hard to put two and two together and realize just how tired these guys are playing right now, but that can’t be an excuse. Time to rest is just a few days away and if you play tired against the blazing Warriors tomorrow night you will lose by double digits.

There were enough live legs on the offensive side to offset most of the problems in the end. Rudy keyed the late 16-2 run with three’s, hustle and drives I’d like to see more of, helped along by a nice management game from Bayless (eight assists). Outlaw got out and ran while also slashing to the bucket for timely scores and Joel locked down the boards (13). What do all these apples have in common? They sport bright red and come off the bench. The Blazers might have still ground out a close win by piggybacking Roy, but the bench made this a much less stressful night.

That’s not to say the starters didn’t put in work. Batum didn’t have much of a game apart from a mistake-erasing pass to Oden for a jam and Sergio was unremarkable with four assists and four turnovers in 20 minutes, but otherwise there was just enough of the status quo to keep a respectable lead through three quarters. Maestro was more of a facilitator in the second half but still got his numbers (22 pts, six boards, five assists) in all the ways you would expect of him. LaMarcus didn’t seem to have his legs under him on his jumpers so he made up for it with six offensive boards and 10 overall. I’d still like to see him get more than two free-throw attempts, though.

Oden deserves special mention not as much for his offense — 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting, taking advantage of Collison and Krstic — but for stamping his name in the paint. Big Greg had a destroyed a Westbrook layup in the same fashion as he did to Corey Brewer in the NCAA Championship Game and also stuffed a Jeff Green dunk/layup that started a fast break. Those were just the highlight plays. Oden affected shots, moved his feet, took a charge and got his hands on lots of loose rebounds. He did get some beneficial calls from the refs when fouls were given to guards — for example Oden had to mug Durant on one drive but the foul was given to Sergio who had love-tapped KD on the arm as he blew by — but he made some wise decisions in terms of picking the right spots to be aggressive and just play straight-up defense. Yes it was against another undersized squad, but at least he is dominating most of those with some semblance of regularity in 2009.

Tomorrow is the same deal, except there is greater risk for failure if the Blazers play tired. They are in total control of their playoff fates with a one-game lead over Dallas and there’s no reason to let anything slip away with losses to below average teams. How sweet would it be to go into the break with a headlock on fourth-place? And people think the Blazers aren’t a legit playoff team…