Time: 9:30PM CST
Location: Moda Center, Portland
Counterpart: Blazers Edge
The Thunder are back in Portland tonight to face the Trail Blazers in what could be OKC’s final game of the 2018-19 season. Painting themselves into a scenario that somehow feels both avoidable and inevitable, the Thunder have surprised us all in how unsurprising this situation has become as game 5 arrives.
Gone are the aspirations of a seeding upset, or of OKC being the playoff dark horse. Tonight is simply about survival. About winning by any means necessary. Because a loss tonight would conclude perhaps the most depressing string of playoff runs west of Toronto. But this is where we find ourselves.
I’ll be honest, I have no idea how the Thunder are going to play tonight. If you rewind to a year ago, in another elimination game to a supposedly inferior opponent, you’ll find one of the more bonkers box scores imaginable, as Russell Westbrook went full kamikaze and scored more than half OKC’s points — 46 in total — off of a Kobe-esque 43 shots, including 7-19 from three. So a redux of that is definitely in play, especially if the Thunder find themselves trailing yet again at the half and struggling to make shots.
Here is what we’ve learned from Portland so far. They now know they really don’t even need to play well for 48 minutes. More like 24. They know that if they simply keep moving the chains, the Westbrook and Paul George-led Thunder likely will not take the time to find Portland’s weaknesses, or show patience and purpose, and willfully waste opportunities to carve them up. Portland knows they likely will see a lot of early shot-clock attempts go up, and a bunch of them might even go in. But if they can keep it close — statistically, within 10 points — the Thunder’s frenetic energy will drop, the trapping on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will be a step slow, and they will have an opportunity to put the Thunder to sleep for the offseason. That’s in play, too.
What do the Thunder need to do in order to avoid yet another playoff collapse? Well, lucky for us, they also have more than a handful of games to remember, and some of them against the league’s very best. Golden State. Milwaukee. Toronto. Houston. And yes, Portland. Big games against good teams where the Thunder went in with a decisive game plan, executed it, and gave us all hope for the season. That’s in play.
Great defense plus valued possessions can work wonders. It will work wonders. The Blazers, even as well as they’ve played, are still a flawed and beatable team. The openings will be there. But OKC can’t roll the dice as if they’re playing with house money. Well actually, it is house money in a sense. Except it’s their own mortgage that they’re gambling with.
The Thunder can do this. They can go into the Moda Center and play better than the Blazers can win. That’s in play as well.
But what play will they draw up?
Who do you think will win tonight?
This poll is closed