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Portland finds their stride late
Russell Westbrook's third straight straight triple double elevated him into some elite company. The last player to do that was Lebron James, back in his original stint with Cleveland. Still, Westbrook's elite performance was not enough to carry the Thunder to victory against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers were simply unstoppable in the fourth quarter, scoring 37 total points as they effortlessly moved the ball from side to side. Westbrook actually performed fantastically in crunch time on the offensive end, and it's a real shame that his heroics fell short.
Part of the reason is Westbrook's D. Lillard was getting past Westbrook with ease all game, and would end up committing only one turnover. This left the defense of Lillard almost entirely up to Ibaka and McGary at the rim. Ibaka was the far more successful of the two, but by the end of the game Lillard was on a really big roll. Aldridge managed to find his stride late in the game too, hitting really sick turnaround jumpers that had looked laborious for him just a few minutes prior. This took Ibaka's attention, and allowed Lillard to thrive.
The other battle that arguably took center stage late in the game was that of Ibaka vs. Aldridge. They had gone back and forth all game. Aldridge was missing his jumpers early, but got aggressive later in the game. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Aldridge was really essential to Portland's ball movement. Aldridge acted as the distributor in the center of the floor that passed it to the open guy in the corner.
Officiating takes center stage
A number of incidents occurred relating to how the game was officiated. The first came late in the third quarter. On one play, the officials didn't call a foul when Aldridge jumped into an outstretched Ibaka. The officials repeated that call on a Lillard drive a couple of plays later, and Portland coach Terry Stotts blew a gasket. The referee called a technical.
Portland seemed to get their share of controversial calls back in their favor though. Midway through the fourth quarter, both Kyle Singler and Dion Waiters were called for three shot fouls in the corner. This was a huge swing in Portland's favor, as they ended up hitting 5 of their 6 given attempts.
Later in the game, with about two minutes remaining in the fourth, Ibaka and Aldridge would get double technicals for yelling at each other. That didn't tip the balance of the game at all, but a whistle by the official with two seconds to go sure did. With the Thunder down three, the referee called a three shot foul on Wesley Matthews out near midcourt. Westbrook missed his first attempt and nullified the call, but how in the world did Westbrook draw that foul? Russ performance in the Shooting Stars at All-Star Weekend should tell us that he can't make it from that far.
OKC's shooting can't keep up
At the half, the Thunder were shooting 4 of 8 from the floor and the Blazers were shooting 3 of 13. That didn't last, as OKC went on to shoot 0-6 from three in the second half, whil PDX shot 7-10. In general, the Blazers simply had stronger three point shooters on the floor. And the first half struggles appeared to be an anomoly. Portland missed quite a few open shots, and didn't really have problems running their offense. The occasional turnover would hurt Portland, but they never seemed to be at a loss for options.
The worst shooter in terms of volume on the Thunder's roster tonight was Dion Waiters. Dion finished the night 3 of 12, and just couldn't hit anything from the floor. I almost think that Waiters is better off always dribbling the ball and moving his legs rather than attempting to shoot off the catch. Because some of those misses can look really nasty. I appreciate the confidence with which Waiters played, as it allowed him to make a few key makes late. Still, for the first time since the new acquisitions arrived, Waiters was effectively supplanted by Kyle Singler in Brooks' crunch time lineup.
The Thunder also suffered through bad nights from Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin, whom finished the night a combined 3 of 13 overall. Neither of them took particularly bad shots, but it was disheartening to see them miss shots here and there when the Thunder only lost by two. Simply put, it's going to be easier for both of these dudes to score when KD is back in the lineup, since he attracts so much attention and takes prime minutes.
McGary's unique skillset
Mitch McGary finished this game an absurdly efficient 10 of 13 from the field. That's good for 20 points, and he had 9 rebounds to go along with it. McGary's offensive game is sublime out there, especially to a fan who's used to watching Kendrick Perkins stumble around. Mitch battles really hard on the offensive glass, and is really clever with his putbacks. McGary is even showcasing a bit of an offensive jumper, hitting a 14 foot shot from the baseline. Still, Mitch's main weapon has to be his ability to finish strong on the pick and roll. He worked it to great effect with Westbrook and Augustin in the third quarter, and it was a huge boost for OKC.
The only problem with McGary's play is his defense. Mitch guarded Lopez and Kaman at different times, and he let both of them get open shots too close to the rim. Kaman is a master of hooks, and Lopez has really good footwork with a soft touch. If you let either of those guys get an ounce of daylight near the rim, they're going to score on you. McGary did to some extent. Furthermore, Mitch wasn't nearly as good as Ibaka was at protecting the rim. That's not saying a ton, but I'd adamantly say that the 34 year old Nick Collison is better than McGary at this point.. Hopefully Mitch continues to refine that part of his game as time progresses.
- Andre Roberson took three threes. One went in, while the other two look like they were taken by Earnest P. Worrell.
- When Ibaka's shot isn't on, he resorts to attacking the basket. And his footwork gets better with each passing day.
- The Blazers passed through the Thunder's pressure really well most of the time.
- The Thunder always looked to push the pace, moreso than Portland I'd argue.
- Stotts crossmatched Batum onto Westbrook late in the second quarter, and again with about 6 and a half minutes remaining in the third. Batum would remain on Westbrook for the rest of the game, but Russ got past him with ease.
- The Thunder were down by 6 early, up by 12 at the half, and ended up losing the game.
- The Thunder were outrebounded in the second half, 21-19.
- Waiter struggled a bit defensively as well, as both Wes Matthews and Aaron Afflalo took him to the post more than once.
- Kyle Singler had some legitimate defense in this game. He stopped Aldridge twice, and stopped Lillard's drive to the rim with 12 seconds to go. Had the Thunder converted on offense, it would have been a critical part of the victory.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook. He can score with the stop and pop in transition, off the screen, running around off ball, shooting deep, or running in transition. And his passes are so on point. He always knows where to throw the perfect oop, or find the open shooter. Just so, so unstoppable right now.
Thunder Down Under: Mitch McGary, the interior basket machine
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, :-(
Thunder Plunderer: LaMarcus Aldridge, just because it's like a sleeping giant awoke within him in the late fourth.
Next Game: At the Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday, March 1st, 3:30 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!