Russell Westbrook was a man among boys for the majority of the Oklahoma City Thunder's season opening loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, 106-89
Westbrook jumped out to a blazing hot start. He scored 26 points in the first half to give the Thunder a 54-49 lead of the Blazers. He finished with 38 points, six rebounds and three steals on 11-of-26 shooting.
To start the game, Westbrook continually brought Blazers point guard Damian Lillard into the post. It wasn't ever fair. Westbrook used his strength and quickness to get the Thunder the lead at half.
His play really seemed to affect Lillard. The usually sharp-shooting point guard didn't score a single point in the first half, shooting 0-for-5 from the floor. Eventually, when Westbrook was getting anything he wanted on the offensive end, Portland coach Terry Stotts had to put his best defender, Nic Batum on Westbrook.
It was all Westbrook who propelled the Thunder to a first half lead. Lance Thomas, playing in his first Thunder game, had an exceptional first quarter. Thomas benefitted from the Thunder knowing they had to move the ball around more without their MVP, Durant. In result, Thomas scored two easy lay-ins off of flex cuts under the basket in the first quarter, along with a few jumpers and hustle plays leading to easy buckets. The Thunder rarely, if ever, score off designed plays or cuts.
Thomas scored 10 points in the first quarter and 14 for the game.
What’s more amazing: What Bumgarner is about to do? Or the fact that Lance Thomas just scored 10 pts in the 1st quarter of a real NBA game?— Joe Atmonavage (@Uncle_Joefus) October 30, 2014
I should have known after his big first quarter, the Thunder were going to be in trouble if he was their second best player for the night because no matter how non-human Westbrook is; he is going to wear down at some point.
Unfortunately, Thomas ended up being the Thunder's second best player on the night.
Serge Ibaka, who we all assumed would be Westbrook's sidekick while Durant is out with the foot injury (good for you if you predicted Lance Thomas), struggled mightily as a second option.
The only time Ibaka looked comfortabe was when him and Westbrook were in pick n' pop situations, a play he and Westbrook (or Durant) have been lethal in over the last couple years. However, when you are the second option, teams are going to key in on that more.
That is exactly what the Blazers did.
Ibaka scored seven points in the first half, most off of Westbrook drop passes from the pick n' pop. As the game went on, the Blazers took that away. As a result of that, the Thunder tried to feed Ibaka on the block, leading to him losing the ball multiple times and not hitting the rim on more than one occasion. Ibaka was completely out his element.
He, along with the rest of the Thunder's front court players, were abused by Lamarcus Aldridge all night. The Blazers power forward gave the Thunder trouble all night, scoring 27 points.
Ibaka may have just had a bad game and I do think the Thunder went away from the Westbrook-Ibaka two-man game more than they should have, but if the Thunder are going to stay afloat with Durant out, Ibaka has to play better.
Westbrook kept the Thunder's head above water for the first half, but as the game wore on, the Thunder, with only nine players just didn't have enough to beat the Blazers.
In the first half, we saw Thunder defenders closing out hard on Blazer 3-point attempts, causing them to shoot 2-of-15 from deep in the first half.
In the second half, the Thunder were a step slow on rotations and closeouts, leading to the Blazers making nine of their last 12 3-point attempts and outscoring the Thunder 31-12 in the fourth quarter.
Besides Ibaka, my biggest disappointed from this game was the play of starting center Steven Adams, He simply looked like a different player than he did all preseason. He scored eight points and added seven rebounds, which isn't bad, but with guys like KD, Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow out, I was hoping and expecting Adams to step up. He played average, but I think the Thunder need more out of the second year big man if they want to be in the top-half of the Western Conference early on.
(Note: Perry Jones III (3 points on 1-of-9 shooting) probably struggled the most, but I wasn't expecting as much out of him as I was Ibaka and Adams)
Westbrook is going to get help when Jackson and Jeremy Lamb are back (hopefully for the third game), but NBA injuries are often unpredictable.
The Thunder face the Clippers tomorrow--another top team in the West. I don't expect them to win with all the injuries, but I would like to continue to see strides from players outside of Westbrook. Westbrook is going to carry this team, he just needs other guys to help pedal along the way and the season opener made that ever so evident.