Recap: Thunder squeak by Trail Blazers in tight fourth quarter, 98-95

Through a number of highs and lows, the Thunder entered a fourth quarter tied with the Blazers at 80-80. Strong defensive play prevailed on both ends late, but the Thunder squeezed out the win.

Box ScoreBlazer's Edge recap

It was a fun game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center (Rose Garden in our hearts). The Thunder came away with a win by the skin of their teeth, 98-95. Kevin Durant shouldered much of the scoring load once again with 36 points, while the Blazers were lead by Nicolas Batum's 18 points.

The Thunder came out to a slow start, with every starter not named Kevin Durant struggling mightily. Of course, Durant playing like he usually does was enough to keep the Thunder in it and the bench stepped in to give him help when the starters couldn't. After allowing the Blazers a 18-6 lead midway through the first quarter, the Thunder bounced back and kept it close for much of the second quarter. The Blazers ended the first half on a quick 12-2 run in two minutes, but the Thunder roared back once again in the third quarter as Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka finally turned it around. This took us to a 80-80 game as the fourth quarter started, and it was tight all the way until the buzzer sounded. A few key misses late for the Blazers sealed the win for the Thunder, who kept the Blazers scoreless in the final 1:54.

What is your initial reaction to the result?

Though we got the win, it was a mixture of highs and lows in this game throughout. Much of the first quarter was hard to swallow, because nobody other than Kevin Durant could get anything going. The non-Durant starters struggled to convert even shots from close to the basket, and the Thunder actually missed all of their shots right at the rim in the first quarter. The struggles for the starters continued all the way until the second half, and while that eventually turned around, the offense as a whole stunted a bit in the fourth quarter as strong defense was played by both teams.

On the positive side, the bench came in early and alleviated those struggles from the starters, especially Jeremy Lamb and Nick Collison who were great in the second quarter. Lamb scored 11 of his 19 points in the second quarter, pulling up for jumpers off the dribble or getting shots at the rim and allowing the Thunder to continue scoring even with Durant off. The Thunder as a whole looked their best in the third quarter, as Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka finally established themselves on offense and gave the Thunder a three-headed offense (with Durant) that allowed them to storm their way back. The defense in all of the second half was great, as they were able to limit one of the league's most dangerous scoring teams.

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

Let's talk about how bad the starters* were in the first half. Check out their stats at the end of the second quarter. Durant was the only one with a field goal, and after Thabo Sefolosha's two made free throws, he was the only one with any points at all! It was an incredibly underwhelming performance from the non-Durants, and they couldn't make an impact in other aspects of the game either. Not a single starter other than Durant had a standout positive in any column of the box score.

(*Thabo Sefolosha left the game in the first quarter with a hand injury, returning at the start of the second half.)

The script flipped in the second half. After missing his first nine shots in the game, Reggie Jackson made his next six, including two loud dunks and a three-pointer. Serge Ibaka made a three-pointer himself, and shot 3-for-6 in the quarter while also grabbing five rebounds and recording a block. Their production added to Durant's scoring gave the Thunder the backbone they needed in the first half, and those three made sure the Blazers could feel their collective impact as they took 23 of the Thunder's 24 field goal attempts in the third quarter (the other one was a make by Kendrick Perkins). In an explosive 35-point third quarter, Durant, Jackson and Ibaka scored 33 points. Their bounce-back enabled what would've been an impossible comeback for just Durant and the bench to pull off, even as well as they had been playing.

What was a key statistic to understanding the game?

Entering tonight's game, the Blazers had the highest offensive rating in the league: 112.8 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference. They shot 50.0% for 55 points in the first half, and it sure looked like it was going to be another one of those games.

It wasn't just a turnaround for the starters' offensive production in the second half, however. The team as a whole settled into a much more dominating defensive performance, holding the Blazers to just 26.7% shooting (12-of-45) in the second half. Nicolas Batum (3-of-5 in the second half) and Robin Lopez (4-of-5) were the only efficient Blazers, and discounting them, the rest of the team shot 14.3%. Considering "the rest of the team" includes such names as Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge (to be fair, he was questionable coming into the game), Wesley Matthews and a C.J. McCollum who was coming off what might've been his best first half in the NBA yet, how impressive was this defensive stand.

It not only allowed the Thunder to make their comeback in their third quarter, but it also let them to keep pace with the Blazers in an extremely disjointed fourth quarter. In that fourth quarter, the Thunder shot just 30.0% and registered only 18 points. It was a great performance on defense by the Blazers too. In a quarter that started with the scored tied at 80 for both teams, perhaps the Thunder only won by topping the opponent's defensive performance by holding them to 22.7% shooting and 15 points.

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

With this win, the Thunder tie the season series with the Blazers at 2-2. After dropping the first two of these matchups, it's nice to see the Thunder knot it up against a division rival. Now, the Thunder only have one more game before All-Star Weekend: a national TV matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers. I'm not making a prediction or anything, but it sure would be nice to head into the break with a three-game winning streak...

***

Kevin's Awards

Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant - 36 points (15-of-28 field goal shooting), 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal

Thunder Down Under: Jeremy Lamb - 19 points (8-of-11 field goal shooting), 2 threes, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal

Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka - 7 points (3-of-11 field goal shooting), 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, 5 personal fouls, scoreless in three quarters

Thunder Plunderer: Nicolas Batum - 18 points (5-of-8 field goal shooting, 3-of-5 three-point shooting, 5-of-5 free throw shooting), 4 assists

***

Next game: vs. Los Angeles Lakers @ STAPLES Center (Thursday, February 13 @ 9:30 PM CMT)

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