The Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Portland Trail Blazers on the road, 114-95. In a game that was essentially over by the middle of the 3rd quarter with the Thunder trailing by 20+ points, OKC never posed a serious threat in the remainder. This game was looked upon as a potentially critical match-up between two teams that will likely be jockeying for playoff position, but it quickly devolved into a blowout loss where Donovan pulled his starters so that one loss doesn’t turn into two (OKC faces Utah Wednesday night on the road).
This outcome offers precious little in terms of positives, but I can offer the caveat of perspective. Losses like this happen to every team at some point, where one team is playing great and the other team isn’t. And when you’re a team still trying to find itself, these blowouts will happen a few times in a season. The second perspective worth weighing is that, with the way Portland was playing, particularly in the first half, they likely would have beaten anyone on this night. Their offense was quick, fast flowing, produced plenty of shots at the rim, and their players were hitting everything, particularly in the 1st half when they shot 62.5% from the floor.
On the other side of the equation, there are certainly some negatives to take away, and there’s no point in sugarcoating them:
- This game showed how wide a gap it is between teams that have multiple natural shotmakers and the Thunder, who don’t. With Cameron Payne still out, Victor Oladipo injured, and Russell Westbrook trying to do too much, the Thunder offense from the wings was woefully inept. On the other bench, players such as Moe Harkless, Alan Crabbe, and Evan Turner all took turns hitting a variety of shots from around the court, buoying the Blazers offense while Portland’s star backcourt of C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard were relatively quiet.
- Compounding this problem was the play of Semaj Christon, who had a really poor game on both ends of the court. Right now, he simply doesn’t do anything particularly well, and his inability to counter the Portland bench players’ production in any way led to the rapid downfall in the 1st half.
- As I mentioned, sometimes teams like the Blazers have nights like this, and there is precious little you can do about it. That said, the Thunder looked like they got caught up emotionally in Portland’s hot shooting and became far too impatient trying to get back into the game (similar to OKC’s early loss to the Warriors). Instead of taking their time to run good offensive sets, OKC far too often rushed into things, wasted opportunities from a defense that didn’t really play that badly up until the 3rd, and systematically fell behind.
Lastly, perspective aside, two things really bothered me with the way OKC played. First, they actually played solidly through most of the 1st quarter, holding an 8 point lead with just over 2 minutes remaining. However, once Westbrook checked out, the offense fell apart and they managed only 5 points over the next 8 minutes. But even then, the template for winning had been laid down; Portland could not contend with the Thunder on the interior, as 3 Portland big men had accumulated 3 fouls in the 1st half. All OKC needed to do was keep attacking the rim and watch the Blazers slowly run out of bodies. OKC shot 22 free throws in the 1st half alone. Did they continue this strategy of hammering Portland? Uh, no, they did not. OKC only shot 6 free throws the rest of the way. In other words, they invested in playing to one clear advantage in the 1st half, only to abandon it in the second.
The second thing that bothers me, and it is something I harp on continuously, is that OKC, even with #35 and Serge Ibaka in the mix in years past, have an annoying tendency to allow inferior teams to defend them effectively. Portland is not a good defensive team. No, let me check that. They are statistically the worst in the NBA, with a defensive efficiency of nearly 110. Every team in the NBA can defend reasonably well at the point of attack; bad defensive teams get lost after that point and end up giving up open layups and corner-3’s. Yet OKC, one of the elite offensive teams over the past decade, have never seemed to show the kind of patience needed to make bad defensive teams look like bad defensive teams, and the same was true tonight.
As I stated, it was clear that by mid-3rd, the only goal in this game was to avoid turning it into two losses. We find out if that goal can be accomplished in less than a day.