Thunderstorm at the RG
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks told my broadcast partner before the game that it's almost surprised him lately how well his team is playing, and how dominant they have become. And, he said if they keep playing this way they'll win the whole thing. After watching the Thunder roll through Portland on Tuesday night, it's easy to see why even their own head coach is impressed.
Smooth and easy. That not only describes how OKC played on Tuesday, but describes the way nearly everything has gone for the Thunder since moving away from Seattle. The next time the team gets a bad break, or a key injury, it'll be the first time. They have no idea what adversity is, and should, I suppose, actually get a lot of credit for that. Their design, and path to where they are hasn't seen even one pothole. I'm quite certain their fans, who had the team dropped in their lap, think it's this way everywhere.
This isn't bitterness, it's envy. It's a useless emotion, and probably a sign of weakness, but it does apply here. While the Blazers have found heartbreak, trouble, and bad news under every single overturned stone (some of their own doing, but a lot out of it out of their control), the Thunder have gracefully waltzed up to a championship window that's now wide open- likely for the foreseeable future.
It's not like this just suddenly turned into this, but given the recent appearance by a now-retired Brandon Roy, and departure of Greg Oden, coupled with watching the Thunder cruise through the Rose Garden with ease, ripped the band-aid off a badly-infected wound.
It's hard to imagine a Thunder team winning just 23 games in a season, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But, that's what they did, and allowed them to stumble into the final piece of their three-headed monster, James Harden (who actually was taken one pick after
Hasheem Thabeet in the '09 draft).
On Sunday, the Thunder dismantled the Miami Heat. On Tuesday, perhaps fearing a letdown, Brooks had his team running around like caged animals during pre-game warmups. You could tell, they were focused and were all business. With recent hard-fought battles in Portland fresh in their minds, and a great respect for the Rose Garden, they came out firing.
Everything was going to have to go perfectly for the Trail Blazers to have a shot in this game, and in the opening quarter, nothing went right. The Thunder, on the other hand, looked like a well-oiled chainsaw. The Blazers were 6 for 23 shooting in the first 12 minutes, while the Thunder were 13 for 20. The lead was 14 before Portland fans had finished their first beverage.
OKC's lead was 18 by halftime, and they only briefly paused to catch their breath in the third quarter. The Blazers, to their credit, rallied in this game. They went on a 17-2 run to get to within five, at 73-68. The Thunder answer though, and took a nine-point lead to the fourth.
In the final quarter the Thunder's big three seemed only mildly amused, and took turns dishing out body blows to the Trail Blazers. First it was Harden, who went on a personal 7-0 run, and then it was Westbrook, who was brilliant once again, scoring 32 points. And, of course, sprinkled into the fun was Durant, who went for an easy 25 points, on 10 of 14 shooting.
On a night when the Trail Blazers could have made up some ground on the logjam at the bottom of the western race, the Thunder simply didn't allow it. They won the game 109-95, and improved to 38-12.
There were some bright spots for Portland, and both came in the form of players who weren't even on this team two weeks ago. J.J. Hickson, who was sent adrift by Sacramento and landed in Portland, had 14 points in his Blazer debut against the Lakers. Against the Thunder, Hickson had a team-high 21 points, on 9 of 10 shooting, in just 26 minutes. He'll be a restricted free agent after the season, and I guess being put on waivers by the Kings served as pretty good motivation to take full advantage of an opportunity like this.
Jonny Flynn was the other Blazer who was especially fun to watch in this game. Flynn, who was the sixth-overall pick in that '09 draft mentioned above, is also getting the chance to show he simply needed the right situation to blossom. Flynn, who got the bulk of the point-guard minutes in the second half, had 10 points, five assists, and lit a spark under the Blazer offense. The NBA is funny this way- Flynn was in a bad situation in Minnesota, suffered a serious hip injury, rehabbed with Houston, and now is finally healthy. Could it be that the Blazers have found a guy that could stick in the future? Tough to tell that just yet, but you've got to give Flynn credit for doing his best to prove himself.
For the Trail Blazers, it was another night where we talked about the difficulty of digging a deep hole early and expecting to be able to recover.
Just as familiar was seeing everything go Oklahoma City's way down the stretch, as they put a cap on another impressive performance.