5 min read

Friday Bolts: 3.8.19

Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) recaps last night’s win in Portland: “There was a moment of hesitation, but as Jerami Grant looked at the floor ahead of him he knew he had one move to make, and it was a good one. Putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim, as the Thunder did all night long, Grant found the crease, drew a foul and finished an and-one layup. At long last, after an absolute duel of a game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Thunder had delivered the knockout blow. Grant’s bucket and free throw capped a 14-4 Thunder run to close out overtime and to outlast the Blazers. Throughout the night the two Northwest Division rivals traded jabs, surging ahead by a few points here or there in a game that featured 23 lead changes and 16 ties until the Thunder made the final push for a 129-121 overtime victory to move to 40-25 on the season and back into third in the Western Conference.  “It feels good to get a win here, a division win,” said point guard Russell Westbrook. “Fighting for playoff spots at the moment, it’s a big time win for us.”

Brett Dawson (Athletic) on Russell Westbrook leading the Thunder to an important win over the Blazers: “For a Thunder team scuffling since the All-Star break, it was a gut-punch of a finish. But Westbrook had an overtime uppercut. He scored eight of OKC’s 16 points in the extra session, matching Portland’s scoring on his own. He didn’t turn the ball over in overtime, making 2 of 3 shots, including his only 3-point attempt, part of a 37-point night. Westbrook was booed most every time he touched the ball, louder after a second-quarter flagrant foul on Nurkic, one of a number of emotionally charged plays in the game. Nurkic upon review was hit with his first technical foul for tripping Westbrook earlier in the play. “It doesn’t matter to me,” Westbrook said. “It doesn’t change anything. I would boo me, too, if I was the other team.” There’s hate from the stands and heat on the court when these teams play, an emotionally charged atmosphere that magnified the importance of Thursday’s win.”

Kevin Pelton (ESPN) on the ejection of Jusuf Nurkic: “Nurkic and Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook tangled late in the second quarter. They came together under Oklahoma City’s basket after a failed Westbrook foray into the paint, and Nurkic tripped Westbrook (not on purpose, he said) as they started to head the other direction. That led to Nurkic’s first technical — but only after Westbrook had retaliated by shoving Nurkic over around midcourt, which earned Westbrook a flagrant foul. It also led fans at the Moda Center to boo Westbrook throughout the rest of the game, which he didn’t mind. “It doesn’t matter to me,” Westbrook said. “It doesn’t change anything. But I would boo me too, if I were the other team.” Tempers flared again in the final 30 seconds of regulation. With the score tied at 111, Paul George drove against Nurkic and elbowed the Portland center in the face as he went up to shoot. No foul was called, and Terrance Ferguson put back George’s miss to give the Thunder a two-point lead. After needing a pair of timeouts to collect himself, Nurkic was fouled in the battle to rebound a Damian Lillard miss. He thought George hit him again and confronted George forehead to forehead, and both players drew technicals — Nurkic’s second, ending his evening.”

Dane Delgado (NBC Sports) on the wild ending in Portland: “Then came the call of the game with just four seconds left. Battling down low, Nurkic was fouled on a putback attempt with Portland down just two points. The Blazers big man, a 77 percent free-throw shooter, then went face-to-face with George. Nurkic wound up giving George a mini-headbutt, garnering him a second technical and an ejection. As per NBA rules, the Thunder were allowed to pick a free-throw shooter. OKC selected Skal Labissiere — who had yet to even attempt a field goal in a Blazers uniform — and who wound up missing his first free throw. He had to miss the second on purpose in order for Portland to get a chance to win or move to OT. Somehow, that’s still not where the craziness of this game ended. On Labissiere’s second free throw, the Thunder were called for a foul on Al-Farouq Aminu, who subsequently forced OT by sinking two from the charity stripe.”

Thunder/Blazers highlights:

Zach Lowe (ESPN) on the subtle brilliance of Paul George: “It can appear as if George is cavalier with shooters — as if he has left them too open. But it’s really that he knows exactly how much time his length and athleticism buy him, and how to exploit every millisecond of that time. George closes out on Beasley without losing his balance, or flying by him. Beasley has nothing. Denver starts from scratch. George will never challenge as many raw shot attempts as the big men jostling with him for Defensive Player of the Year. That is inherent in the positional differences between wings and bigs. But you wonder how much sequences like these define what kinds of shots those big men end up challenging — who shoots them, from where, and under what level of pressure from both the defense and the shot clock.”

Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on Markieff Morris building new habits on defense: “Morris said he doesn’t have aha moments at this point in his career. The Thunder’s matchup with Portland on Thursday marked his eighth game with OKC, but even during his transition both onto a new team and back to playing after a neck injury in December, Morris doesn’t see executing coverages as a victory. That’s just something he’s supposed to do. Morris had a head start in learning the team’s defensive terminology because he played for former Thunder coach Scott Brooks in Washington. When Billy Donovan replaced Brooks in 2015, he introduced new offensive play calls, but it was different on defense. “When you have a group of players coming back,” Donovan said, “I thought it would be a mistake for me to come in and just completely change all the terminology.” The similar calls have helped cut down on some miscommunication, Morris said. But that’s one small part of the learning process.”

Yahoo Sports previews tonight’s Thunder @ Clippers match-up: “The Thunder had a seven-game lead over the Clippers after beating the Trail Blazers 120-111 on Feb. 11, extending their winning streak to four games, but that gap has been trimmed to 3 1/2 games. The Jazz are in sixth place, 2 1/2 games behind the Thunder. Oklahoma City and Utah meet Monday in Salt Lake City. The Clippers haven’t played since a 113-105 win against the Lakers on Monday. The Clippers have been feasting on a soft stretch of their schedule. They haven’t beaten a team currently in a playoff spot since a 123-112 win at Boston on Feb. 9. Los Angeles lost to the only top-eight teams it has played since then, the Denver Nuggets (123-96) and the Jazz (111-105).”

Around the League: Recapping last night’s NBA action…. LeBron is getting himself a minutes restriction…. Vince Carter hopes to play another season…. Steve Kerr thinks Warriors’ fans deserve better (lol)…. Charles and Kenny think the Blazers are going to the Finals (lol)…. Is Ja Morant the next Russell Westbrook?…. Five NBA milestones to watch for…. Please stop sleeping on the Bucks…. Defining teams by offensive style.