Time: 9:30PM CST
Location: Moda Center, Portland
Counterpart: Blazers Edge
The Oklahoma City Thunder have to go back to the basics tonight in game 2 vs the Portland Trail Blazers. How basic? This basic — basically, how to put the ball in the basket.
Despite a swarming and stout defense that gave them a chance to win despite being down nearly 20 in the early going, the primary culprit in OKC’s game 1 loss was a failure to create good looks and then make the ones they did get. And while the overall shooting was bad — 39% from the floor, and cover-your-eyes awful 15% from three — the poor shooting was compounded by offensive impatience that too easily settled for the first semi-open jumper, rather than work for easier looks the way they did recently against the Timberwolves and Rockets.
(Fun fact — despite Portland being vastly superior from long range, they took 8 fewer threes. Think about that.)
Paul George’s poor shooting was the big headline, and it is the one most easily addressable, even if he’s still not 100% in shooting the ball. Sometimes it isn’t just missing shots, but taking quick shots without making the defense work that causes the offensive problems. Perhaps the most dangerous offensive set the Thunder can run against the Blazers is the 3-5 pick and roll between George and Steven Adams, because PG coming off the screens is a big threat to any defense, but in particular if the switch occurs between his man (either Maurice Harkless or Al-Farouq Aminu) and Adams’ man, Enes Kanter. Make them chase or make them switch, it doesn’t matter. If that isn’t OKC’s base offense for every minute those two share the court, then they haven’t done a good job building a game plan. Not surprisingly, this combo was seldom found, as George finished with zero assists and Adams, after a big 1st quarter, was quiet most of the rest of the way.
George’s fellow chucker was surprisingly not Russell Westbrook, who played a reserved game, but Dennis Schroder, who only shot 5-17 in 36 minutes, including an awful 0-7 from three. It is important to note that, with no real rim protection, the Blazers are ill-equipped to defend at the rim UNLESS it involves Schroder and George just simply ISO attacking and allowing the defense to rotate and help. But with better use of screening and cutting, the Thunder were even able to set up Nerlens Noel particularly well (8 points, 4-5 shooting, 5 ORBs). That is, of course, when they tried. A better floor game and less chucking from Dennis would do wonders.
Lastly, the other glaring problem with the Thunder’s approach in game one was an overreliance on Jerami Grant. It’s funny (or not) how the media at large loves Grant because he’s dynamic and angular and athletic and can create interesting mismatches off of switches. But in this series, and many like it, his disadvantage is getting exploited. Grant’s slender frame could do nothing to help keep Enes Kanter off the glass, and with Grant not hitting from range and creating space in the middle, his was a spot that Donovan needed to swap out in favor of Markieff Morris or even Patrick Patterson. Cutting off Kanter’s access to the rim would have a substantial impact on Portland’s already difficult road to score points, but Grant isn’t the guy to do it.
The Thunder have a clear pathway and easy tweaks to earn a big road win tonight. But it starts with the basics.
Who do you think will win tonight?
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