Blazers Get Defensive in Second Half
It's a funny game. Sometimes the opening minutes of a contest set the tone for the entire night. We've seen the Trail Blazers dig themselves deep holes in opening quarters, and spend the rest of the night struggling to dig out. Other times, early double-digit leads are completely meaningless.
On Friday night at the Rose Garden, Oklahoma City shot out of the gates like a well-oiled machine. They were hitting everything they threw at the rim, seemed to get every bounce, and had their way with the Trail Blazers. They shot 68 percent from the field, and easily built a 12-point lead.
Perhaps the Blazers, who looked a bit tired, and were slow to react to everything, needed to get clubbed across the head like that. Seeing the Thunder run wild seem to wake up Portland, even if it did take a quarter and a-half.
At halftime the Blazers trailed by six, and it seemed amazing they were that close. Then the defense kicked it into high gear. Adjustments were made at halftime, certainly, but it simply appeared that Portland flipped an intensity switch, and slapped the handcuffs on the Thunder players.
Everything that came so easy for the Thunder in the first half, was totally taken away in the third. The Portland offense, triggered by the defense, ripped off 15-straight points, closed the third on a 21-5 run, and put the game away in the fourth, winning it 98-91.
Nate McMillan went with a new starting lineup in this game, and while it seemed to take the team a while to adjust to it, things clicked in the second half. Gerald Wallace was put back in his natural position at small forward, Marcus Camby was back in the middle, and LaMarcus Aldridge was back at the four. Nicolas Batum came off the bench.
In the past, Batum would have likely taken that as a demotion, and wouldn't have been aggressive enough to get himself into the game. Not tonight. Batum responded perfectly, and finished with 19 points, 6 rebounds, and played excellent defense.
Aldridge was brilliant, scoring 32 points while grabbing eight rebounds. Wallace locked up Kevin Durant in the second half, and Andre Miller was clutch, as usual. The Blazers held the Thunder to 10 for 39 shooting in the second half, and took excellent care of the basketball. The Blazers had five turnovers in the first half, and ended the game with five. That's right, zero turnovers in the final two quarters.
Portland undoubtedly will stay with this lineup on Sunday when they host Dallas, but the minutes won't always be handed out this way. On this night, the guy who had to sacrifice time was Wesley Matthews. He played just 24 minutes. Rudy Fernandez, who did a fine job disrupting the Thunder offense, was used down the stretch in the fourth quarter, logging 26 minutes in the game.
Durant was held to 9 for 24 shooting, including just 3 for 14 in the second half. That was nothing new. Wallace did the same thing to him last Sunday. But this time, Russell Westbrook was held in check as well, shooting just 5 for 15 in the game. That was the key.
The Blazers didn't exactly light it up in the fourth quarter either, shooting just 4 of 17, but had enough in the tank to finish the job.
To listen to McMillan's post-game comments, click here
With the win, and the New Orleans loss to Memphis, the Blazers moved back into the sixth spot in the west. The magic number to clinch a playoff spot was reduced to two. It was nearly reduced to one, but Houston rallied to beat San Antonio. That was the only thing that didn't go well on this night.
Six games to go now, and things are still very much up in the air. Watch out for Memphis. Considering their schedule, they could easily move into sixth, and leave Portland and New Orleans to battle it out for the seventh and eigth spots. Eight could get you the Lakers, as they won again and the Spurs lost. Seventh could still get you Dallas, but most likely will earn you a series against the Spurs, who are really struggling, losing their sixth-straight game Friday night.
First up, it's Dallas, then Golden State, and then a trip to Utah on Thursday.