Road-Weary Blazers Worn Down in OKC
The wins in Chicago and Atlanta, which followed the two losses in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, were a pleasant surprise for Trail Blazer fans. Heading into Oklahoma City, and the final game of a five-game road trip, a win over the Thunder would have likely ranked up there with the 30-point road win at San Antonio, and just as unlikely.
But, in the first half of the game, the Blazers appeared to have good energy and were dictating tempo at both ends. They were switching between man defense and zone, and it seemed to be effecting Oklahoma City’s offense. Even Portland was turning the ball over way too much, and LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t have his outside shot, the Blazers appeared to be ready to record a signature win and end the trip with a winning record.
When JJ Hickson banked in a desperation shot at the first-half buzzer, to give the Blazers at 47-45 lead, belief grew. After all, the Thunder had recorded a less-than-impressive 4-12 record when trailing at halftime this season. But, an even more impressive number was Oklahoma City’s 25-0 record at home against teams below the .500 mark.
Unfortunately for Portland, that record now stands at 26-0.
As the Blazers found out, and knew going into the night, is that you’ve got to be very, very good to win in a place like Oklahoma City. It’s not often that teams grind out wins over the Thunder in that building, and that’s how Portland was staying in the game. The fear was, being this was the end of a long trip, fatigue would eventually punch a hole in the emotional momentum Portland had gained from the wins in Chicago and Atlanta. But, to simply blame this on tired legs wouldn’t be giving the Thunder credit.
The Blazers do get some credit, however, for continuing to show resolve and fight even when not many of their normal weapons were firing.
Aldridge, who’s been on the best roll of his career, just seemed to hit a wall. His activity level was there, and he still achieved a double-double, posting 10 points and 12 rebounds. But, his normally-reliable outside shot was well off the mark all night long. I haven’t even looked at the shot chart, but only remember one shot outside of about five feet going down for him in this game. It wasn’t that OKC’s defense was shutting him down either. His shots were wide open. He just had an off night, going 3 for 14.
The other Blazer who’s been red hot, cooled off as well. Wesley Matthews, who kept Portland in the game at Milwaukee, hit several huge shots in Chicago, and lifted his team to a win at Atlanta, ended this game 3 for 11. Damian Lillard had 19 points, on 7 for 16 shooting (it shows you how far Lillard has come when he scores 19 points, dishes out 6 assists, and pulls down 4 rebounds and it’s basically viewed as a ho-hum evening for him).
And, JJ HIckson, didn’t get a double-double. That’s unusual.
Nic Batum turned in the performance of the night for the Blazers. Not only did he ended playing some solid defense, he also scored 13 points, and recorded 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
The biggest sign of just plain being out of gas was huge advantage the Thunder had in turnovers. Well, more accurately, points off turnovers. The Blazers can usually survive 17 turnovers, if they shoot well, and if they force turnovers. But, they were on the short side of a 17-2 points-off-turnovers number, and shot just 41%.
So, Portland ends the trip with a 2-3 record. Given the time of year, the length of the trip, and the miles travelled, and the fact that four of the five opponents will be in the playoffs, that’s not that bad. In fact, the way Portland rallied back after losing the first two games of the trip to win in Chicago and Atlanta was inspiring. A win at OKC would have capped off one of the more memorable extended road trips in the last few years.
Now, it’s back home, where Portland will play 8 of its final 12 games. It starts against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night.
There’s more to say about this game, and this trip, but I’m leaving that to you. I’m out of gas, and like many others on this plane, am having trouble keeping my eyes open. See you Wednesday.