After a strong first quarter where the Thunder kept the Blazers offense in check, OKC got entirely too complacent in the second quarter, allowing the Blazers to outscore them 35-17 in the period. Portland was led by Lillard, who scored 19 of his 22 first half points in that second quarter.
Lillard capped off his remarkable 2nd quarter when - with Portland leading 51-43 - he drew a questionable foul call on a 2-on-1 fastbreak that wiped out a Westbrook dunk. With Perry Jones and Westbrook coming in on the break, Jones impeded Lillard's progress to defend Westbrook. Jones was called for a charge even though Lillard clearly embellished contact (he flopped). With the arena frustrated, what would have been a 6-point deficit ballooned to 11 as Lillard hit a 30-foot 3-pointer to close out the half. It was a turn of events that made a comeback that much more difficult for the Thunder.
Still, the Thunder put that behind them and flipped the script in the 3rd quarter, shutting down the interior and forcing the Blazers into 6-20 shooting for the period. On the other end, Westbrook continued to drive the offense, piling up points and assists, finishing the third with 27 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Ibaka hit two huge 3-pointers to key the comeback run, and OKC erased the halftime deficit and headed into the fourth all tied at 73-73.
Also encouraging was Reggie Jackson, who used his minutes off the bench - particularly when Westbrook rested - to guide the Thunder offense. Jackson finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists and was key in leading the comeback that put the Thunder in a position to win.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The Thunder has lost some tough ones this year, but this has to be the most frustrating one yet. They had a team that came in with the second-best record in the league on the ropes, and after a rough second quarter, played really great basketball for 22 and a half second half minutes. I know the "Good Russ, Bad Russ" thing gets played out, but it's easy to see why on nights like this. He was fantastic for pretty much the entire night, as the Thunder offense basically sat back and waited for him to create any sort of offense on what felt like every possession.
Yet, it's hard to get past that final minute and a half. You can't take a technical there, and you also have to figure out a way to get better looks in the final minute, no matter how reliable your pullup jumper can be. And then to miss a free throw that would have iced the game, and leaving Lillard with a chance to tie, it just wasn't a great finish for Russ.
It's ridiculous to pin the loss entirely on Westbrook, of course, because, again, he still had a pretty solid game when taken as a whole. But it's becoming a pattern with this team simply unable to close games, and with Durant out, you turn to your leader in those situations. Still, he needs help, and no matter how great Jackson was off the bench, there just wasn't enough firepower outside of the two guards to completely bury the Blazers. A rough night all around, and a tough loss to live with.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
The Thunder actually dominated the inside, outscoring the Blazers 54-24 in the paint. The Blazers simply let the Thunder play physical inside, though, and did their damage from the perimeter. Portland was 17-31 from 3, compared to just 6-19 for OKC. The scoring from outside meant the Blazers could score quick, and trim down any lead, and that's what they did.
The Thunder will have to find a balance between not only taking away the inside, but leaving enough coverage on the perimeter to not let good shooting teams like the Blazers to get off easy looks.
Thunder Wonder: Reggie Jackson: 21 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook: 40 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, just 2 turnovers.
Thunder Blunder: Perry Jones: 0 points, -22 in 25 minutes.
Thunder Plunderer: Damian Lillard: 40 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds.
Next game: at San Antonio Spurs, Thursday (12/25) @ 1:30 PM CDT