Despite falling behind by as many as 18 points in the first quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder shook off the rust and created a playoff-like atmosphere on Sunday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. In a game that featured 14 lead changes and eight ties, the contest was up for grabs deep into the final minute of the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately for the Thunder and those in attendance at Chesapeake Energy Arena, it was CJ McCollum and the Blazers that made the plays when it mattered most.
After taking a 103-102 lead on a Russell Westbrook jumper with 1:10 remaining, OKC suffered from a number of self-inflicted wounds and bad breaks. Portland used offensive rebounding to create a corner three for Damian Lillard at the 40-second mark, putting the Blazers up 105-103. After Westbrook tied it up with a driving finish with 36 seconds to go, McCollum scored two of his game-high 34 points on an extremely difficult midrange jumper — pushing Portland to a 107-105 advantage.
On the ensuing Thunder possession, the ball made its way to Carmelo Anthony in the corner. After he struggled to free himself from the trap, he drove into the paint before committing a turnover on an errant pass. Al Farouq-Aminu would make one of two free throws on the other end, leaving OKC with the possibility of sending the game into overtime. However, Melo missed the potential game-tying three-pointer, allowing Portland to escape with the 108-105 victory.
McCollum was electric all night, scoring 34 points on 14-of-24 shooting. His backcourt mate, Lillard, scored 24 points. Big man Jusuf Nurkic was next in line, adding a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double.
Westbrook led the Thunder with 23 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, and 4 steals — scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter to make it interesting. Steven Adams added 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Thunder bench contributed 36 points, led by Jerami Grant’s 17.
The loss drops the Thunder to 44-31 and greatly damages any hopes of catching/passing Portland for the three-seed in the Western Conference. Back in action on Thursday against the Spurs.
44: The Thunder shot 44 percent from the floor. Portland hit 46.7 percent of its shots.
29.6: OKC went just 8-of-27 from long range, good for just 29.6 percent. Portland had similar issues from deep, going 9-of-34 for 26.5 percent.
-10: The Blazers won 49-39 on the boards, including an 18-13 advantage on the offensive glass.
+28: The Thunder wasted a superb bench effort. The OKC reserves outscored Portland’s by a tally of 36-8.
Melo & Jerami
So Carmelo Anthony was not very good tonight. He wrapped up with 6 points on 3-of-13 shooting, committed a critical turnover in the final seconds, and, ultimately, missed the shot that would have sent the game to overtime. His final line:
Melo: 6 pts, 8 reb, 3/13 FG, 0/5 3P, -15
On the flip side, Jerami Grant was superb off the bench, maximizing his 19 minutes and providing enough offense to keep the Thunder competitive. His line:
Grant: 17 pts, 3 reb, 4/5 FG, 2/2 3P, +12
The Thunder held a 94-93 advantage when Melo was subbed in for Grant at the 6:25 mark of the fourth quarter, a Billy Donovan decision that looks absolutely horrific in hindsight. What makes little sense — and what I presume won’t change — is the necessity to turn to Melo in late game situations whenever he (A) hasn’t been performing well, and (B) his replacement is playing very well. Has he really been good enough this season to earn that benefit of the doubt?
What the Thunder was left with down the stretch was an extremely ineffective Melo. I mean… stuff like this:
Nonsense. Some will pin the loss on his shoulders but Donovan shouldn’t have had him out there to begin with. Ride the hot hand — which tonight was Grant.
Westbrook was again the most effective member of the OK3, producing an effort that looks great in the box score. His line:
Russ: 23 pts, 8 reb, 9 ast, 4 stl, 9/20 FG, 1/2 3P, 3 TO, -2
His 11 points in the fourth quarter were almost enough to squeak out the win but it wasn’t meant to be. His full highlights:
The Start. The Blazers came out on fire, jumping out to a 32-17 lead in the first quarter. They went a blistering 4-of-8 from downtown in the opening frame — but went 5-of-26 from downtown from that point forward. Regardless, the Thunder bench helped spark a second quarter run that brought the team back into it. It looked like a full on blowout prior to that.
The Bench. The Thunder bench outscored the Portland reserves by 28 points and every reserve that played finished with a positive net rating. Grant was a +12, Alex Abrines was a +14, Raymond Felton was a +9, Terrance Ferguson was a +4 and Patrick Patterson a +3. Point fingers all you want — just not at the Thunder reserves. They did their job in a game OKC needed to win.
PG13. Another oddly inefficient night for Paul George. He wrapped up with 16 points on 4-of-15 shooting, adding just two rebounds and two assists. He went 0-of-7 from downtown, his fourth performance this month without getting a three-pointer to fall. I’m not encouraged by his offense this close to the postseason.
Big Kiwi. Steven Adams was the only thing working for OKC in that brutal first quarter and finished his night with a nice stat line of 18 points and 10 rebounds — 9 of which were of the offensive variety. However, after going 8-of-12 from the floor in the first three quarters, he got just two shots in the fourth. No sense.
The Other Guys. Four Blazers scored in double-figures: McCollum (34), Lillard (24), Nurkic (17), and Moe Harkless (16).
Extracurriculars: Terrance Ferguson got tangled up with Ed Davis at one point, starting a scuffle that resulted in technical fouls for himself, Westbrook, Davis, and Evan Turner. Those offset so it’s pretty much like the entire thing never happened. Here it is: