Jan 13

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.


  1. 27% shooting for the team (excluding Aldridge), I am just stunned how the game wasn't a blow out. I got exciting there in the end, but defense... I really can't give all the credit to the Thunder. They got quite a bit of help from Portland simply missing many makable baskets.

    by Blazer Fanatic on 1/14/2013 12:17 AM
  2. that miss really hurt. aldridge was absolutely dominant but that final shot just didn't fall.

    these come from behind games are fun to watch but stressful. i imagine part of our shooting woes might have something to do with fatigue.

    too bad wes wasn't guarding durant earlier. i'm sure we'll see more of it next time we meet.

    this blazer team is a scrappy one that can go toe to toe with anyone. if only we could get a little more help off of the bench.

    go blazers!

    by thedanman on 1/14/2013 12:21 AM
  3. This game had the same feeling as that Heat game both teams didn't really put a stamp on this game it was up for grabs for both teams and this time it bounce OKC's way I called this week our "hell week" and I'm hoping for a 2-2 record we definitely have to play special in Denver because they are starting to get going right now and like you said many of times MB it's a "House of Horrors" for us and we simply can't fall behind in their gym otherwise it's gonna be a long night.

    by CarlJ1 on 1/14/2013 1:22 AM
  4. Aldridge had a terrific night, but linking Nic in with the rest of the team who only scored 46 points doesn't seem fair to Nic. Nic scored 21 points of those 46. Most other teams would consider that a terrific amount by their leading scorers. Here it gets lumped in with the rest of the team's scoring, doesn't seem right.

    by Mieke Appel on 1/14/2013 1:44 AM
  5. Hey MB: thanks for your blog.

    I don't think it is too late fro a moral victory when you are talking about playing OKC; We stayed with them wire to wire. Thirteen point lead isn't anything in the NBA; that is a moral victory in my book.

    You mentioned that OKC won with their D when their offense wasn't clicking; the same could be said about Portland for a change. altough OKC challenged every shot and put pressure on our shooters and blocked millions of shots, some of the misses was just misses. it had nothing to do with OKC. So, it came down to who makes the shot at the end and this time it was OKC; we had our opportunities to win, both at the free throw line and with shots.

    I know you don't get involved with the refs calls, but when Stotts gets so mad that he gets a T when we was already walking away, shows me that the Refs was favoring OKC big time; and as you said in a game where there is no room for error, a bad call can be a different maker.

    OBTW, as you may have figured I got to listen to Mike and Mike tonight and that was great.

    As everybody knows Tuesday is my bowling night, so it is radio only for me, but I love Wheels and Tone, I think it would be amazing if we walk away from that game a winner, but I am not counting out us winning.

    by Hg on 1/14/2013 4:11 AM
  6. See the difference: 45 % field shooting success for OKC; only 36 % for Blazers; and the difference was mainly in near 2 points baskets; i did not see the game though; just read the data. You cannot win if you need 15 more shoots than your adversary. Furthermore, if the visitor defense was better, they were less fouled than Portland; they do; OKC; have both better defense and better attack.

    by Soopadeajo Sopadeajo on 1/14/2013 5:37 AM
  7. Hi Mike,
    It's time to get Meyers back. It's important for his development. I hope when he does come back he focuses on his defense and rebounding. We know he can dunk. Sometimes sitting out a stretch of games can be a good thing. Meyers may have taken notice there are many ways to contribute to your team.
    I like the character of our team. No head cases. No distractions from the goal. They are the type of team that will not go on a big slide.

    by Divotking on 1/14/2013 9:55 AM
  8. The team has had trouble getting offensive flow against defenses that press hard, and when they do get good shots everyone seems off-balance or hurried. At the rim they expect more than is sometimes there, and on the perimeter, even when they have time to take the shot, the other team's hurry seems to infect their rhythm. I'm also not clear on coach Stott's recent trend of using Freeland in the first half and Jeffries in the second. The other teams just assume they don't have to guard Jared unless he's at the rim, and have been proven correct on that point.
    I give the team credit for hard work on defense last night. Unfortunately we were getting stops when we couldn't get shots, and when the shots started falling, the stops thinned out.
    Does anyone know our season record in the fourth quarter? It feels like it would be something like 28-8. First and third quarters, on the other hand....

    by David Maclaine on 1/14/2013 9:58 AM
  9. @David Maclaine: Mike and Mike has spoken often of balance between D and O.
    If we go all out offensively that affect our Defense, and visa versa.

    I was just wondering if that may have been OKC's trouble; they were going all out to stop Lillard and the 3pt shot and that effected their offense; the Blazers did the same thing they went all out to stop Westbrook and the 3pt and that affected their offense.

    I wasn't unhappy about the game; we played hard, we gave ourselves a chance to win against a team up to two wks ago we didn't think we had any chance at all of winning

    I guess it is a little to early for record watching, but the fact that we are even in the play-offs race is very exciting to me and that is why winning last night was so important to me.

    All in all, we were competitive and the goal was for improvement and to be competitive, so if having a bad night or two of offense may be sacrificed to get better on D first, then get more balance between Offense and Defense.

    by Hg on 1/14/2013 10:41 AM
  10. Two things:
    1. I would have put the ball in Nic's hands at the end. I don't think LA likes that role.
    2. JJ, please find your dunk shot. We need you there man.

    by allie-oop on 1/14/2013 11:11 AM
  11. MB,

    I'm just going to be honest here: the way we played, we didn't deserve to win last night.

    And thedanman, I really wish I were in your shoes. The entire second half, for me personally, was not fun to watch AT ALL. I found myself screaming at the TV at least six or seven times, the offense was so bad. We just couldn't buy a bucket and we kept making unnecessary turnovers while trying to force tempo.

    Not even the comeback was satisfying. I was like, "Okay, we scored again...but CAN WE PLAY DEFENSE???" Obviously OKC had the better D last night. The Miami comeback felt different. Why? Because we truly were underdogs. I was expecting a little better effort from us in this game just from the fact that we stayed with the Thunder even on the road in the second game this season.
    I thought we could pull it off at home this time. Guess not.

    In the end, we know three things for sure from this game:

    1. No matter what, Blazer fans, there will be times where we won't always be clutch. (i.e. Lillard's rookie mistakes in the final minute!)

    2. Pushing the tempo is NOT ALWAYS a good thing.

    3. Luke occasionally will play like the Luke from PAST SEASONS. We need to make a trade for a proven bench scorer. ASAP. Otherwise, consider the Blazers the 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs for years to come. The has-runs. The "can't do it in the postseason" team like the Blazers from 2001-03, and gasp, 2008-10.

    Does anyone else see the potential parallel here???

    Anyway, that's all I have to say. This and the San Antonio loss earlier in the year hurt more than any other loss this season. Take care and hope you call a win in Denver. (Although, at this rate...I'm extremely skeptical we can win that one now.)

    -Max Milander '14

    by linfieldrunner on 1/14/2013 5:57 PM
  12. Blazer Fanatic is right. Not counting Aldridge the team is 16/60 = 27 % shooting; a ridiculous percentage at home. A team must be more than his best player. And best players must also find the way to help the team play well and win without them being the center of all ofense actions.

    by Soopadeajo Sopadeajo on 1/14/2013 11:14 PM
  13. @Soopadeajo Sopadeajo: I could not agree more.

    by linfieldrunner on 1/15/2013 11:21 AM
  14. As expectations rise, so does the criticism. Early season predictions had the Blazers at no where near 20 wins at this point of the season.
    There is a plan in place for a blockbuster signing. Patience grasshopper.
    Stay healthy, keep improving, stay the course. I see no reason to spend valuable cap space to move from an 8 or 9 in hopes of reaching a 5. I would much rather see a good plan or smart move vs. a desperation move. We lived through that last year.

    by Divotking on 1/15/2013 3:29 PM
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