Ice-Cold Finish Sinks Portland
We've talked recently about how it's never too early for a team to establish its identity in an NBA season. Often times a team's poise and confidence is shaped by the experiences it racks up early on. This cuts both ways, and it cut both ways at the Rose Garden on Thursday night.
After returning home from a very successful road trip, the Trail Blazers were poised to protect the home floor, continue to build momentum, and make a statement in one of those very important divisional games against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder, meanwhile, were recently routed at home by Utah, needed a last-second shot to escape Detroit with a win, and were manhandled by the L.A. Clippers on Wednesday night.
One team had a heck of a lot to gain, and the other was simply desperate.
What will haunt the Trail Blazers is that they were in a position, several times, to not only get the win, but to deliver another blow to OKC's confidence that could have had lasting effects. Instead, all of that went up in smoke in the final two minutes. The Thunder got a reprieve, and it's Portland that's now picking itself up off the mat.
The Trail Blazers led this ball game 75-62 with just over five minutes to go in the third quarter. Even after giving that lead away, they had rallied to lead again, 98-93 with just 2:10 left. The offense, that had been free flowing and attacking, turned completely stagnant. The Thunder took full advantage, got new life, and stormed behind to get the win in overtime, 107-106.
After LaMarcus Aldridge scored on an alley-oop with 3:07 left, the Blazers could manage only one field goal over almost the next 7 and a-half minutes. It was a stretch that saw them become completely predictable, and suffer through a 1 for 11 draught from the field to close the game. Once the game got to overtime, it was the Thunder with all the momentum, and you sensed it was over. That certainly turned out to be the case.
The Blazers always talk about having the goals of not only winning their home games, but winning close games. Normally they're very good at both. The sad part is, if you get away it this time, and a lot of this is forgotten. But, because this ultimately cost them a big win, over a division rival, doubts could creep in the next time they're in this situation. That's how it works, especially early in a season.
Kevin Durant was very good in this game, but he wasn't the difference. He did have 28 points and 11 rebounds, but Portland actually did a good job on him. He shot just 11 for 24, and had 5 turnovers. The difference was Russell Westbrook. The Thunder point guard had 28 points, was 10 for 10 at the foul line, and had 11 rebounds- including 6 offensive rebounds. You get 6 offensive rebounds from your point guard? What a huge benefit that is. And, he did a lot of his damage late.
The Trail Blazers attacked again with a very balanced offensive effort, putting six players in double figures. LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points, Brandon Roy had 19, and Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum each had 16. Marcus Camby had another double-double, scoring 13 and grabbing 12 boards. Wesley Matthews had 13 off the bench. And, they were actually shooting a high percentage most of the night- until that final 1 for 11 stretch.
This Blazer team has been so good in fourth quarters so far this season, and has taken control, or come back late in games. On this night, they were outscored by Oklahoma City 25-19 in the final quarter. And, they still almost got away with that. They had the ball, with the score tied at 100, with a chance to win the game. But, Roy, who waited perhaps a little too long to initiate a move, ended up getting a lean-in jumper at the horn that had very little chance of going in. We have seen the isolation stuff with Brandon work late in games, so it's not like it was unexpected. This time it simply didn't work, and was used too often down the stretch.
Often times I preach not to read too much into games early in a season, but this one has the potential to sting for a while. We're very, very early in the season, obviously. But, a 5-1 record, with a big win over the Thunder, would have been a nice feather in their cap. Combine that with the chance to send OKC home with a 2-3 record, and a loss in what is going to be a very competitive season series, and it's just plain painful.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here
You never have to wait too long for a chance at redemption in this league, and Portland's comes Saturday night at the Rose Garden. They host the Toronto Raptors. After that game we'll fly to L.A., and get ready to play the Lakers on Sunday.