Thunder recap: OKC wilts in the 3rd, misses late as Portland Trail Blazers win, 111-104

Iced again - WBB

The Thunder could not overcome the hot shooting of LaMarcus Aldridge and their final 3-point attempts came up short.

Box ScoreBlazers Edge recap

The Oklahoma City Thunder lost a close game on the road, falling to the Western Conference leading Portland Trail Blazers, 111-104. The game between two of the NBA's best did not disappoint, as each team took turns asserting its advantages and swung the momentum.

The game was a tale of two halves, as the Thunder could not follow up their solid first half of play and only managed 45 points after halftime. The most critical stretch was in the 3rd quarter, where the Thunder saw their 11 point halftime lead evaporate, as the Blazers outscored them 35-21.

LaMarcus Aldridge led all scorers on the night with 38 points while grabbing 13 boards. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 33 points on 11-23 shooting, while grabbing 7 rebounds. Russell Westbrook continued to struggle with his shot, but finished with 21 points and a team-high 5 assists. The Thunder bench continues to be an asset, aggregating 35 points.  One surprising statistic is that the Thunder, who are currently the best rebounding team in the NBA, were out-rebounded by Portland, 47-43, which included a 3 offensive rebound advantage.

What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?

This game certainly had a playoff flavor to it, as both teams were fully amped and emotional, looking to send a message to the rest of the league. The outcome came down to the final few possessions of the game, which is what you would hope to see in a game featuring two of the league's best.

This is the way it goes - sometimes the other team hits a shot and your team doesn't. In the final 1:30 of the game, all-world scorer Kevin Durant had two clean looks from beyond the 3-point arc and he missed them both. On the other end of the court, Nicolas Batum, the guy who was matched up against Durant for most of the night, got his 3-pointer to fall. These sequences represented the last potential turning point for the Thunder.

What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?

The 2nd half was a rough affair, but the dreaded 3rd quarter was what really undid the Thunder. While credit is due to the Blazers for figuring out the adjustments that they needed to make, it was frustrating to watch OKC unable to match the Blazers' effort.

OKC certainly had favorable matchups at both the SF and PG positions, but during that stretch they seemed to get away from creating good opportunities for Durant and Westbrook. Specifically regarding Westbrook, he knew that his size and strength advantage could produce good shots, but my quibble with Westbrook has always been in the implementation. We saw him dribble down the court and work the ball straight into the post on multiple possessions, taking challenging shots.

The problem I have with it is not so much in recognizing the shot potential, but in how the Thunder seldom do anything interesting with it. Westbrook has no trouble getting the ball deep in the post on his own, but it would seem such a simple thing to involve even one other player to make the entry pass. It adds an element of uncertainty to how the defense will play it, and Westbrook is likely to get better shot attempts.

The stagnating offense eventually concluded, but watching the Blazers tear up OKC's early lead was tough to stomach, and the Thunder never found their offensive flow again.

What was a key statistic to understanding the game?

The biggest statistic that hurt the Thunder on this night was their inability or unwillingness to pass the ball and create a dynamic offense. In total, OKC tallied only 11 assists on the night, with Russell Westbrook the high assist man with 5. Kevin Durant did not tally a single assist on the night, which is always problematic when he's one of the team's primary ball handlers. Likewise, the Thunder's 3rd ball handler Reggie Jackson had only 1.

In reflection, I wonder if the problem is in part because both Durant and Westbrook have little trouble getting their own shots against the Blazers. Damian Lillard offered little resistance to Westbrook, and while Batum has the length and ability to stay with Durant, Durant was still able to get nearly every shot he wanted. Even Jackson was met with token resistance, as he was able to drive the ball to the rim successfully.

The net result was that while the Thunder duo were able to get decent looks at the rim, it came at the expense of really making the Blazers defense work and create easy shots at the rim.

What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?

The Blazers now have a leg up on the Thunder in the early running for Western Conference supremacy. While that really doesn't mean much today, in a few months the Thunder will look at this game as one that could have easily gone in the other direction.

Kudos to the Blazers, who have now knocked off the Indiana Pacers and the Thunder in back to back games. The Thunder will have to reconsider the best way to play Portland as they prepare for their next meeting on New Year's Eve.



***

Sherman's Awards

Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 33 points, 7 rebounds

Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 13 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks

Thunder Blunder: Thabo Sefolosha, only 2 points in 20 minutes

Thunder Plunderer: LaMarcus Aldridge, 38 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals

***

Next game: @ New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, Dec. 6, at 7PM CDT

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