After firmly taking control of the game in the second half, the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to coast to victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, 106-90. Kevin Durant was the main difference maker for the Thunder, scoring 24 points on 57% shooting. Things went particularly well for the Thunder when KD was matched up on Allen Crabbe, the Blazers reserve forward. KD was able to get close enough for easy shots against Crabbe, and could simply dump it off every time Portland doubled.
Meanwhile, the Blazers couldn't get any production out of their star, Damian Lillard. Lillard finished the game shooting just 6 of 20 from the floor. Part of that is due to the defense of Russell Westbrook. It was an impressive game for Westbrook defensively, aside from a slight lapse on concentration that allowed three consecutive threes at the end of the second quarter. Anyway, Lillard also struggled because he couldn't get anything inside. The Thunder were committed to defending the first shot, resulting in Portland's attacking guards getting nothing in the paint. Lillard was 1 of 5 from the paint, while McCollum was 1 of 3. Of course, the downside was that Portland got a ton of offensive rebounds (17) and went to the free throw line a a lot (18 times). But the Thunder played big for the vast majority of the game, and never wavered from their commitment to the rim.
Of course, despite the Thunder's best efforts, C.J. McCollum was able to get 24 points with hot outside shooting. Most of McCollum's shots were off the bounce, and Roberson in particular had a hard time keeping up. But McCollum saw most of his success during the first half, and struggled when OKC honed in on him during the third quarter. The rest of the Blazer team didn't produce much. Plumlee was winning possession down low, but was constantly battling against multiple defenders and couldn't get anything to go down. Leonard was getting open shots outside, but couldn't knock anything down. Same goes for Al-Farouq Aminu.
Unexpectedly, the Thunder didn't get a lot of points out of Russell Westbrook. You could tell that Westbrook was forcing it at the rim all game, even when the Blazers were completely packed in the paint. Smart strategy overall, but it would have been nice if Russ would have read the defense more. I mean, we're talking 5 made shots, 3 FT, and 5 Assists versus 10 missed shots and three turnovers. In the strictest sense, Westbrook almost hurt as much as he helped. And during the second and third quarters, Westbrook only had one assist.
Still, I'm not putting Westbrook's decision making at fault. Westbrook got a good number of open shots, and was right to try to score in one-on-one situations with Lillard and McCollum. But Westbrook just couldn't convert well enough tonight, and never really drew the type of double teams that net him a high number of assists. Plus, Westbrook was a big part of the early first quarter lead and third quarter run.
Nevertheless, I commend Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams for stepping it up on the offensive end. Adams was essential down low, grabbing some really tough offensive rebounds and putting it back in. I even saw Adams take Plumlee on the block a couple of times. Meanwhile, Ibaka did his usual thing of finishing on the pick and roll and hitting jumpers off KD double-teams.
Furthermore, I've got to show love to Dion Waiters, who scored effectively for the third night in a row. Waiters definitely dominated the ball at times, but Portland's defense is prone to fall asleep. So it was cool to see Waiters get a mismatch with Leonard or nail an end of shot clock three. Waiters was also extremely effective in transition. The Blazers don't really have a solid wing defender off the bench and McCollum is definitely poor, so I'm glad Waiters was able to take advantage. By far the best Waiters moment though was when he split a couple of defenders and hit a reverse layup.
How did the Thunder take control of this game?
The first half was a bit ugly, as the Thunder had 11 turnovers overall. Furthermore, the Thunder missed 7 free throws in the second quarter. If that weren't enough, Westbrook had a momentary lapse of concentration and allowed the Blazers to hit three straight threes, narrowing the gap to just 7 at the half.
But the Thunder came into the second half dedicated to scoring. The Blazers settled for lazy long jumpers, while OKC was dedicated to getting to their spots. KD gave a dirk leg. Westbrook pulled up for a cotton shot in transition. Westbrook charged to the rim on a mismatch, and Adams cleaned up his miss. Then, KD was surrounded on two consecutive plays, and found Westbrook and Roberson. In the end, it was a 10-2 run that put the Thunder up 15.
OKC hovered in the teens for a good chunk of the third, as they traded baskets with a more aggressive Portland. But late in the third, KD drew the matchup with Allen Crabbe. This allowed KD to score easier than ever. Even Waiters chipped in 5 points on separate forays to the rim. Meanwhile, Portland just kept taking too many bad threes, and could only convert in the paint half of the time. At the start of the fourth, Big Blue had a commanding 21 point lead.
- Stotts: "I thought [the Thunder] defense was very good. Their pick and roll defense, they got into us. It was hard to chip 'em off. They were very good at the paint, protecting the basket. Give them credit for their defense, they made it difficult for us."
- Couple of smart timeouts by Billy Donovan in the fourth quarter. The reserves were in, and the Blazers had gotten a couple of turnovers by pressuring the Thunder big men. Both turnovers resulted in uncontested scores. Timeout Donovan. The same thing happens about 3 minutes later, with the Thunder giving up two consecutive transition buckets off of a missed three and turnover. Timeout Donovan again. Out of both timeouts, the Thunder executed a solid set play for an open jumper, and it worked. You might be thinking "Blowout strategy, who cares?" But this micromanaging kept the Thunder in the lead and KD/Westbrook's legs fresh for tomorrow's game at the Cavaliers.
- That Nick Collison tip dunk was amazing. So was the fundamental hook Collison was able to hit on a mismatch. Just cool to see him succeed on offense. Defense was on point as always.
- Andre Roberson missed another corner three, but didn't spend much time on the perimeter after that. Rather, Roberson scored once in transition and once while sneaking under the rim on a backdoor cut. The Blazers were pretty clearly ignoring Roberson, but the Thunder found a way to continue scoring effectively.
- Enes Kanter was a force on the boards, and I liked the effort out of him when he got to play with Westbrook or KD. But I feel like Kanter is really ineffective when playing with the bench. No one gets him the ball in the right spot, and his days of pick and rolling with Augustin are long gone. Still, solid effort on defense and the glass.
- D.J. Augustin continues to not run the offense anymore. I still don't know why. Augustin drew a nice foul on Lillard once, but also bricked two threes. I saw Lillard burn Augustin on defense once, but the Thunder smartly switched Waiters onto Lillard after that and it worked.
- Anthony Morrow is the forgotten man out there. Played a tad during the second quarter, didn't see any serious looks, then finished things out in garbage time.
- Late in the game, Donovan ran a lineup of Kanter-Collison-Novak-Singler-Payne. It was hilarious! No ballhandling whatsoever.
- Kyle Singler blew an open layup at one point, but then made up for it with a steal and run to the basket for a foul. Meh, garbage time.
- Payne hit a nice mid-range jumper late in the game around a Collison screen.
- There was a really impressive Ibaka hook into Leonard tonight.
- I feel like defense carried our bench tonight, and that was a key component of the victory.
- The Thunder didn't hit a three until KD nailed a pull-up attempt with 3:48 to go in the third. 44 Points in the paint through the first three quarters though, so who's complaining?
- Dion Waiters nearly punched D.J. Augustin following a celebration. Disaster narrowly averted!
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who will dissect your defense if you don't match up with him
Thunder Down Under: Steven Adams, for establishing paint dominance
Thunder Blunder: D.J. Augustin, for not being involved
Thunder Plunderer: C.J. McCollum, easily the most improved player of the year
Next Game: Versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, Thursday, December 16th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!