Thunder Defense Wins the Night
By mikebarrett Posted in: Thunder
So, it turns out the NBA's highest scoring team is also pretty good on defense.
Lately we've talked about how the Trail Blazers have found different ways to win games, compared to how they were doing it early in the season. It's a huge step to figure out you've got multiple facets to your attack. Oklahoma City has probably always known they could do it at both ends of the court, and on Sunday night they proved it.
Two of their three offensive stars struggled mightily, but when you've got Kevin Durant, sometimes that's enough. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin combined to shoot 6 for 29, but that was offset by Durant's 33 points, and they beat the Trail Blazers in Portland 87-83. The loss snapped Portland's home winning streak at nine.
While it's a big credit to Oklahoma City that they struggled and won, I suppose you could also find some positives in the fact that Portland shot 36 percent and almost
won. We're way past moral victories at this point, and the players reminded us of that after this game. In fact, it was the second-straight game we've talked about this very thing, as the Blazers also shot an uncharacteristic percentage at Golden State on Friday and almost
won. There's some good there, and there's some bad there.
First and foremost, the Thunder deserve a lot of credit for the way they defended the Blazers on this night. LaMarcus Aldridge had a terrific night, going for 33 points and 11 rebounds, but OKC survived because they weren't going to let anyone else get it going.
At Golden State it was very similar, but the one starter who had it going was Damian Lillard. Lillard was 15 for 25 in that game, but the rest of the starting five was 13 for 45. In this game, Aldridge was 15 for 26, and the rest of the starting five went 13 for 46. Those are eerily-similar numbers.
Early in the season, we mentioned on many occasions that the Trail Blazers were going to have a tough time winning if even two of the five starters struggled from the field. So, again, if you're looking for positives, they've proven they've developed past that stage. In back to back games now, just one starter has hit at a normal clip, while the others have struggled, and both games were winnable.
The Blazers trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half, and in fact trailed in this game 84-74 with 3:35 to go. Then, as is becoming their trademark, the Blazers rallied. A 9-0 run cut the score to 84-83 with :22 seconds left. After getting a steal at midcourt, the Blazers rushed the rim with a chance to take the lead, but Nic Batum's lay up attempt was long and Oklahoma City was able to secure the rebound and put the game away at the foul line.
Just a couple of games ago we were talking about the impressive stat about Portland being 11-1 in games decided by 6 points or fewer. Now, that stat stands at 11-3. That's still impressive, but what we're talking about is trying to sustain success in situations where you've got zero margin for error. You're not always going to get the big shot to drop in those situations, and in the last two they haven't.
The Thunder probably walked out of the Rose Garden feeling they dodged a bullet. While it's true they weren't exactly clutch when trying to close the door on the Blazers, they were able to be just good enough in a building that's been a difficult place for visiting teams to get a win. They showed the scrap and hustle that we've come to expect of them, and their NBA-best record improved to 29-8.
This brutal stretch of games has been circled on the calendar for a while, and the Blazers are three games into this particular run. They beat the Heat, on a night when they weren't close to their best, and then fell to the Warriors and Thunder in similar ways. The difference was, they got that big shot to fall against Miami, and didn't in the last two. Sometimes it's that simple.
This stretch isn't over, as we'll now fly to Denver on Monday afternoon and get set to take on the Nuggets in Denver on Tuesday night. If you know anything about this team's history in Denver, you know that'll take a monster effort to walk out of their with a win. Let's hope it doesn't take another comeback late in the game. While admirable, it's just not a sustainable method to beating quality opponents.
As it is, they've got a chance to split these four games, and early in the season, to consider that Portland would have a chance to get back to being four games over the .500 mark, at this point in the season, would have seemed extremely acceptable. But, then again, we're past that and expectations have changed.
Talk to you Tuesday night.