The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 103-83. After a half that had us wondering if this was going to be Orlando Magic Part Deux, the Thunder turned things around in the 2nd half and exerted themselves on both ends of the court. What started as a taut affair turned into a rout as the Thunder defense overwhelmed the Blazers and OKC fastbreaked their way to a win.
The Thunder were led by Kevin Durant's double-double, where he finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds. More importantly, Durant worked hard to keep his turnovers down, committing only 3 on the night. Durant was aided by Russell Westbrook, who finished with 21 points, 9 assists, and 4 rebounds, outplaying his rookie counterpart Damian Lillard, who finished with 19 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds.
The Thunder bench also did a great job outplaying the Blazers, scoring 34 points on the night. The bench mob was led by Kevin Martin and Nick Collison, who scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.
What do we take away from this game in light of the playoffs?
The Thunder had us all worried for a bit, but I really liked the way that the Thunder seemed to finally embrace an identity in the 2nd half that is conducive to winning games against inferior opponents. The game was knotted at 65 late in the 3rd when OKC finished the quarter on a 10-3 run to finish the quarter up by 7 points. With the Thunder bench leading the way in the 4th, OKC once again trusted Reggie Jackson to control the offense and enable them to produce good shots.
This bench play is obviously been a roller coaster as of late; some days they look solid and consistent, while in others they lay an egg and the game turns on its head. I think the key for OKC to be able to produce points from the bench is that they really need to have Jackson paired up with another player or two who understands how to find space in an offensive set. Jackson worked really well with both Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka, setting them up to score the first 6 points of the quarter. Jackson then followed up the effort himself by twice getting into the lane to finish at the rim. Even though Jackson's bench did not build on the lead, they did a good job producing consistent offense by creating good open looks, and that was enough to carry the team until Durant and Westbrook got back into the game.
The Thunder closed the game on a dominant defensive stretch, and this is the kind of focus this team needs to have in order to put away teams. Through a combination of great sequences where the entire team read and recovered the Blazers' offensive sets, they held Portland scoreless for the final 6 minutes of the contest. If Portland found an open look, the Thunder were closing aggressively so that no shot went uncontested.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who always gives OKC trouble because of his ability to pick-and-pop as a 7 footer, was particularly frustrated by the Thunder's vastly improved rotations. These are the kinds of defensive rotations the Thunder must be doing when they face teams like Memphis and San Antonio in the playoffs.
Overall, it was a great 4th quarter, a rarity in a season that has been full of unexpected game endings. By the Thunder focusing their energies on the defensive end, it alleviated their offensive stress level and they were able to relax and simply run solid offensive sets. The team finished with 23 assists on the night while shooting 52.4% from the floor. The Thunder continue to use an offensive set that features both Westbrook AND Jackson, and I like what I see.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The Thunder enter the home stretch needing to hold onto their lead over the Nuggets to protect the #2 seed. Fortunately for OKC, the schedule is favorable so unless something catastrophic happens, the Thunder should not have much difficulty doing this.
Rather, we are going to take a much closer look at these final games particularly in light of what they might tell us about the teams that will matter in a month - the Nuggets, Spurs, Grizzlies, and Clippers.
Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the fact that Eric Maynor returned to the 'Peake for the first time since being traded. It was a strange sight to be sure, but I think Maynor is in good hands. He finished with 10 points and 4 assists and looks to be a good fit for the Portland bench as they work to solidify themselves around Aldridge, Lillard, and Nicolas Batum.
|Final - 3.24.2013
|Portland Trail Blazers
|Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 24 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 16 points, 5 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Derek Fisher, zero points on 0-2 shooting in 15 minutes
Thunder Plunderer: Damian Lillard, 19 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds
Next game: vs the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, March 27th at 7PM CDT
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.