4 min read

Monday Bolts: 4.22.19

Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) recaps last night’s Game 4 loss in OKC: “The missed shots piled up for Portland in lock step with the missed opportunities for the Thunder. The difference didn’t show itself on the scoreboard until the second half, but when it did, it cascaded down into a Blazers surge from which the Thunder never quite recovered. An aggressive Thunder defense held Damian Lillard to an 0-for-6 shooting start to Sunday night’s Game 4 and used that fortunate dynamic to build a 7-point lead. Late in the second quarter however, with Paul George saddled to the bench with 3 first half fouls in 14 minutes, Lillard scored 5 quick points and then found Al-Farouq Aminu for a corner three-pointer to cap an 11-0 run to close out the half. The result was a 50-46 Blazers lead at halftime with Lillard entering the third quarter brimming with confidence and the Thunder never managed to regain the lead in a 111-98 loss. “In the first half we weathered the storm a little bit with Paul picking up fouls. We really didn’t close the half very well, kind of gave them maybe some momentum going into the locker room,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan.”

Royce Young (ESPN) on the Blazers ignoring the trash talk to push OKC to the brink of elimination: “With their starters heading to the bench with 40 seconds left, Game 4 in hand and a 3-1 series lead in their pocket on the way back home, the Portland Trail Blazers had an opportunity to bask in their 111-98 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder a little. But there was no celebrating, no trash talking, no taunting, no dunks at the buzzer. It was, as Damian Lillard said, all business from start to finish. “After Game 3, we were in the locker room saying they lived at the free throw line and all this stuff, but Game 4, we’re not talking to nobody but ourselves,” Lillard said. “Referees can call it how they want to call, we’re just going to worry about ourselves.”

Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on the Thunder’s shooting struggles in Game 4: “The Thunder did, but not always in the method conducive to beating a team which punishes missed shots with laser-guided 3-point shooting and better finishing. Thunder coach Billy Donovan often references that players can’t control the ball going in the basket. That rings true for a George 3-pointer rimming out with the Thunder trailing by 11 in the waning seconds, but it doesn’t apply for low-efficiency shots which play into the Blazers’ game plan. The Thunder can control not attempting the shots it’s poor at, and OKC didn’t in the backbreaking third quarter. The Thunder didn’t attempt a shot in the paint in the third quarter until Dennis Schroder made a floater with 3:53 remaining. Its first 16 attempts all were jump shots. “They just packed the paint,” said George, who scored 32 points, but was just 8-of-21 shooting. “That’s how every teams tries to guard us, load up on us.”

Scott Polacek (B/R) on Westbrook taking a more civil approach to Berry Tramel after Game 4: “Russell Westbrook once again wasn’t in a talking mood following his team’s 111-98 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Sunday’s Game 4 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series. Westbrook said “Uh, that’s a good question. Um. Not sure” when he was asked about his defense on Damian Lillard when the Trail Blazers point guard exploded for 15 points in the third quarter alone and seized control of the game for his team. This comes after much was made of his refusal to answer questions from Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman after Game 3, responding with just a “next question.”

Michael Shapiro (SI) on Westbrook’s shooting making the Thunder powerless in the postseason: “Westbrook remains the true culprit for the Thunder’s struggles. The erosion of his jumper is startling, slamming a ceiling on Oklahoma City’s Finals aspirations. Westbrook was a passable shooter in his MVP season, making 34.3% of attempts from three. The eight-time All-Star cratered this season. He shot just 29% from beyond the arc in 2018-19, the worst mark in the league, and the third-worst of any player since 1980. Westbrook shot 5-21 on Sunday night. He combined to shoot 13-37 in Games 1 and 2 against Portland. Game 6 in Utah last year featured an 18-43 performance. Westbrook is arguably the worst high-volume shooter in recent memory. The impact of Westbrook’s brick-fest extends beyond the box score. His recklessness seems to send Oklahoma City into chaos, fed by a diet of missed elbow jumpers and frustrating turnovers. Westbrook shoved Damian Lillard as he attempted to rock the baby within the first three minutes, and a Billy Donovan technical came shortly after. The Thunder often shine in chaos, especially on the defensive end. But as the court shrinks in the postseason, disaster awaits.”

ESPN’s NBA writers discuss the first round of the Playoffs: “I thought Oklahoma City would beat Portland, mostly because I thought Portland was sunk after the devastating season-ending injury to Nurkic. Instead, the Blazers look like they’re going to make it to the Western Conference semis, and I would pick them as the favorites right now to reach the West finals. Lillard has completely outplayed Russell Westbrook, and the always underrated Terry Stotts has done an excellent job of coaxing better play out of Portland’s supporting cast. After years of playoff failures in the Pacific Northwest, a combination of Portland’s play and the bracket breaking in the right direction could lead to the kind of breakthrough Lillard and the Blazers have been dying for.”