It took overtime, but the Oklahoma City Thunder completed a perfect 4-0 season sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday night, winning 129-121 in overtime despite 51 points from Damian Lillard. Lillard was the best player on the court, shooting 14-28 and dishing nine assists. The Thunder were able to neutralize his teammates, and that strong defensive effort and a combined 69 points from Russell Westbrook and Paul George were enough to give OKC the win
The Thunder nearly came up with the win in regulation. Terrance Ferguson put OKC up by two points with a put back dunk with 13 seconds to go. On the ensuing play, Damian Lillard misses a jump shot and Paul George fouled Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic responded by headbutting George, earning his second technical foul of the game, after he picked up his first in the second quarter by tripping Westbrook (who earned a flagrant foul for his retaliatory shove). With Nurkic gone, Billy Donovan was allowed to choose which blazer shot in his absence, resulting in Skal Labissiere going to the line. The often forgotten Labissiere missed both, but a loose ball foul on Markieff Morris gave Portland another chance which they capitalized on, sending the game to OT.
With Nurkic out, however, the Trail Blazers started Enes Kanter at center in Overtime. That proved to be a huge mistake by Coach Terry Stotts, as Wesbrook repeatedly attacked his defensively challenged former teammate. Westbrook started off his scoring with a top of the arc three (Russ went 5-8 from three on the night, almost exclusively via the off the dribble attempts that are normally the least effective shot in his repertoire), but OKC’s subsequent scoring came almost exclusively at Kanter’s expense. Westbrook’s scoring and excellent defense by OKC (including blocks by Terrance Ferguson and Jerami Grant) proved to be the difference as OKC dominated the extra period, ultimately triumphing 129-121
Portland started the game hot, hitting five of their first ten shots, but Westbrook was hotter, hitting five of his first six. George struggled to start, but began to heat up with Russ on the bench, forcing his way to the line and getting a nice finish at the rim in transition. The Thunder were unable to build a grab though and had a truly bizarre finish to the quarter, with Schroder committing two dumb turnovers (and very nearly a third) and Nerlens Noel committing a foul on made free throw while trying to box out Enes Kanter, gifting Portland an extra free throw. Fouling was an issue throughout the period, as OKC committed eight fouls in the period. Despite the miscue, Noel was excellent against Kanter throughout the half, succeeding in keeping him off the glass and limiting his scoring, while allowing OKC to repeatedly target Kanter in the pick and roll to great effect.
PG continued attacking the rim in the second with good results, even as he continued to struggle from three. George would ultimately shoot just 1-9 from deep, but also took twenty free throws on the night, with most resulting from drives to the rim. The Thunder were unable to extend their lead much in the first four minutes of the quarter as Westbrook sat. When Russ returned, his hot start led to some poor shot selection. On consecutive possessions he turned it over, hit a tough midrange jump shot, and missed an off the dribble three pointer. The Blazers used the opportunity created by those plays to take the lead, and went on a 10-2 run once George subbed out.
Three pointers from Ferguson and Grant closed the gap before the Nurkic-Westbrook incident. Dame Lillard started to get hot as the quarter wound down, while Jusuf Nurkic absolutely dominated Steven Adams all half. Nurkic posted 12 points and 10 rebounds in the half alone, while Adams had just two points and no rebounds in the half. OKC’s fouling trouble continued in the period, and Grant and Ferguson both went to the bench with three fouls, leading to the Thunder closing the quarter with Russell Westbrook, Dennis Schroeder and Ray Felton all sharing the court. That lineup was not particularly successful, and the half ended with the Blazers up by three, 61-58
The Thunder reclaimed the lead early in the third quarter and the game went back and forth from there as the teams traded baskets. Jerami Grant continued to come up big for OKC, grabbing a big offensive rebound and drawing a charge. Lillard went from hot to supernova in the quarter, and CJ McCollum joined him with several big shots of his own. The Thunder were able to match them however, with Westbrook hitting a couple of long jumpers and Schroder and Adams both settling in offensively. George continued to struggle from three but was still able to find success driving to the rim and drawing fouls, and the Thunder reclaimed the lead despite Lillard’s shotmaking, holding an 85-83 lead entering the 4th quarter.
Schroder started the fourth with two quick buckets and the Thunder built a small lead by the eight minute mark.
From there it got crazy.
Lillard and Westbrook attacked each other at every opportunity. Westbrook hit a tough jumper from the low post against Lillard, followed up with his trademark rocking the baby celebration. Lillard responded by drawing a foul from Westbrook on a three point shot, and then hitting a 30 footer to put Portland up 100-98 with six minutes to go. The Thunder punched back with their defense; back to back transition plays resulted in two free throws for PG and Russ’s craziest finish of the night, a play where he went nearly parallel to the ground as he jumped over Rodney Hood for the lay in. Lillard came right back with a personal 5-0 run, but Westbrook drilled his 4th 3 pointer of the night to tie the game at 105. In addition to the dueling point guards, Paul George continued drawing fouls through the period and Steven Adams managed to turn the tables on Nurkic, who scored only one point in the second half as Adams put up nine. Still, it was Lillard who ties the game at 111 with 45 seconds to go- and Westbrook who ultimately closed things out for OKC in the extra period.