When I was a child, there was an episode of Sesame Street that would resonate with me to this day. Big Bird is interviewing Pete Sampras, and Big Bird asked him how he became such a great tennis player. Sampras responded, "Three Things. The first one is practice, the second one is practice, and the third one is practice." After watching this interview, I was a bit peeved. I thought he was going to reveal some tennis trick, but he had just rambled on and on about how hard one needed to work in order to become a tennis player.
And that's how you'll probably feel about the first and second paragraph of this article I wrote in the wee hours of the morning. I could go into extreme detail about all the things the Thunder did right and wrong, and hint as to who was at fault. But, at the end of the day, it just comes down to effort, effort, and more effort. The Trailblazers cared about this game, and the Thunder just didn't care about it as much.
But, there's reasons beside the effort, so I'll go into them .As noted in the gamethread tonight, the Thunder simply could not get any offense going in the second half. After a 59 point first half, the Thunder finished the game with a paltry 31 points. 9 of those points were earned at the free throw line, while only 4 points were scored outside of the paint and within the three point arc. For a team that thrives on the mid-range jumpshot, this is an unacceptable figure. In fact, the Thunder went 2-11 in the second half from mid-range. To me, this is where the main shortfall lies. the Thunder were getting shots off, but they were either shot poorly by a big man or highly contested. Eventually, they missed so many shots that they simply resorted to bad threes and getting fouled in the lane, severely limiting the Thunder offense.
Defensively, the Thunder were solid. They limited Portland to 98 points overall, and kept the Trail Blazers within arm's length for almost the entire first half. When the Thunder's defense worked, the paint was closed for business and the Trailblazers were forced to go for fouls or a bad mid-range jumper. But with Kendrick Perkins limited to 23 minutes due to his foul trouble, the Thunder had to go with Mohammed at center a lot. Mohammed is just as tall as Perkins, but he's not as big and has much worse hands under the basket. This led to more offensive opportunities for the Trail Blazers, along with Collison's lack of athleticism.
Below: The Game Getting Out of Hand, Giving Credit Where It's Due, Future Analysis, Awards!
This game got increasingly out of hand as the fourth quarter went on, and even though the Thunder hit a few clutch threes, not even Monta Ellis like heroics could have saved them tonight. The plays the Thunder ran were downright terrible. Often, they would try to set a pick but just end up having someone shoot well beyond the arc with two men in his face. They would also go for a closer shot through a bit of misdirection, but it always ended up in the shooter being off-balance and out of rhythm. The best play they ran was probably a simple iso, where the shooter could simply out-talent his opponent.
The Trail Blazers do deserve credit for this win, though. They succeeded in getting their best scorer (Aldridge) in gear after he had been down last week, through some crafty inside plays. They also succeeded in getting reasonably efficient production out of Batum, Wallace, and Miller. It wasn't anything spectacular, but they had different options on offense and certainly fared better than the Thunder. This was mainly accomplished through forcing defensive mismatches on the Thunder's part through their small size and different positioning on the floor. In other words, while they were exploited in the paint because of their lack of size last game, they actually used their lack of size this time to gain control of the paint.
Moving forward, his loss puts the Thunder an almost insurmountable 3.5 games back of the Mavericks for the third seed in the West with 7 games left to play. It also drops them to four games ahead of the Denver Nuggets for the Northwest Division lead. This win puts the Trail Blazers a game ahead of New Orleans and Memphis for the sixth spot in the West, and 2.5 games behind the fifth spot, currently held by Denver. The Thunder have won the season series, 3-1.
Thunder Wonder: Serge Ibaka, 8 Points, 6 Rebounds, 5 Blocks
Thunder Down Under: James Harden, 21 Points, 1 Rebound, 2 Assists, 1 Steal
Thunder Blunder: Kevin Durant's 3-13 Shooting from Beyond the Arc
Thunder Plunderer: Lamarcus Aldridge, 32 Points, 8 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 1 Steal
Next Game: At the Los Angeles Clippers, Saturday, April 2nd, 9:30 PM Central Daylight Time.