Russell Westbrook scores a career high 58 points, and the Thunder shoot 52% from the field and 40% from 3.
When you read that line, you have to think “The Thunder must’ve won this one against the sub .500 Blazers then, right?”
Well, my friends, you are sadly mistaken.
However, in the 4th quarter, it seemed that Russ was going to be able to pull this one off and carry his teammates to a much-needed victory after a 3-game skid on the road. He checked back into the game with about 8 minutes to play and the Thunder down 106-97.
Russ had several amazing finishes at the rim and the Thunder had all of the momentum. Thanks to Russ’ outstanding play and a few stops on defense the Thunder had crept all the way back into this one as Russ sank a free to tie not only the game, but his career high scoring mark of 54 with two minutes left to play.
On the other end, the Blazers wound up with Russ switched on Nurkic, who scored easily over the much smaller Thunder guard. Russ then missed a few good looks, but the Blazers were unable to capitalize, and the Thunder had the ball on an inbounds play with time winding down. Billy D then drew up a beautiful play to free Oladipo who nailed a 3 to put the Thunder down one.
The Thunder then fouled CJ McCollum, who seemed to get away with a travel, and the Blazer sharp-shooter hit both from the charity stripe. On the Thunder’s ensuing possession, Russ fired up a shot from well behind the arc (with a lot of time still on the clock) that didn’t find its target, and the Blazers went on to close this one out from the free throw line, winning 126-121.
Now let’s talk about the rest of the game that led up to these last 8 minutes.
This one started out favorable for the Thunder as Russ got going early, finishing the first quarter with 12 points on 4-7 shooting to go along with 3 assists. Russ got help from the return of his scoring partner Victor Oladipo. Vic looked fresh coming off his recent absence due to back spasms and chipped in 7 points and 4 rebounds in the first. Kanter was also working the Blazers inside for 9 of his own.
On defense, the Thunder were playing with energy early on, especially Roberson and Oladipo, who were getting in the passing lanes and playing physical on their respective assignments. However, the Thunder did allow Noah Vonleh and Lillard to put up 7 each, but Roberson did good work on McCollum holding him to a goose egg at the end of 1.
Norris Cole, Abrines, Kanter, Grant and Roberson was the odd lineup to begin the second quarter. They weren’t able to do anything on offense and were giving up some open shots in the mid-range on the other end. This lineup gave up a 6-0 run before Billy called a timeout. But, oddly enough, he decided to throw the same lineup back out there after the timeout and they gave up an easy two points off a turnover. Shortly after that, Norris Cole traveled, and finally, Billy had seen enough. That group gave up 8 unanswered and turned it over 3 times before the Thunder bench sent help.
The Thunder were able to get their momentum back off continued solid offense from Russell and by stringing together a couple of stops on the defensive end. The quarter continued with Russ and the Blazers both putting on shooting clinics from the mid-range. Russ by creating separation on his own, and the Blazers by attacking the paint with their two premier guards, allowing others like Meyers Leonard to get open looks from the mid-range.
Russ finished with 24, and Oladipo with 10, while the rest of the Thunder team was pretty quiet in the 2nd quarter. Especially Steven Adams, who continued his unusual streak of sub-par play in the first half and only got off one field goal attempt in 12 minutes. For the Blazers, McCollum and Crabbe both got going and finished with 11 and 12, respectively.
In the third, Crabbe stayed hot from the outside, while Lillard decided it was his time to score and put in 12 in the quarter. For a few minutes stretch in the third it was Russ vs Dame as the two went back and forth with phenomenal offensive possessions.
Russ was really the only one keeping the Thunder in it in the third. A few guys helped out here and there, but no one really stepped up on the offensive side. The Thunder’s continued lapses on defense coupled with their loss of the aggression and energy they showed in the first quarter, were a recipe for disaster as the Blazers finished the quarter with 99 total points for the game and a 7-point lead.
The lineup to start the 4th of Semaj, Roberson, Abrines, Taj and Sabonis, as you probably guessed, was not able to regain the lead for the Thunder. It was tough to watch that group on offense as the only real bright spot was Sabonis who played aggressively on that end and was able to get a couple of buckets.
As we’ve discussed above, Russ was able to do Russ things, but it wasn’t enough to bring the Thunder all the way back and notch a victory.
Russ finished with a career high 58 points (21 of 39 shooting) to go along with 9 assists and 3 rebounds. He also had 4 turnovers and 3 steals. Vic had 16 points and 5 rebounds in his first game back from injury, and Enes Kanter was the only other Thunder player in double figures with 11.
For the Blazers, Lillard had 22 points and 8 assists, Crabbe had 23 (5 of 7 from 3), McCollum added 21 and Nurkic had 17 and 8 rebounds.
The Thunder have now have four BAD losses in a row and it doesn’t look like things are going to get much better with the Spurs and Jazz coming to town.
- Steven Adams now has a total of 4 field goal attempts in his last 2 games (51 minutes) against Portland.
- However, he was playing a lot more physical defense on Nurkic early on and was able to draw a couple of fouls from the Blazer big man.
- This is Russ’ first 4 game stretch without a triple-double since November.
- He was hitting all his shots though.
- It was good to see Vic back. You could see his defense early on was much more effective than Abrines’ was the last time these two teams met. Royce Young reported during the game that the Thunder were only going to play him between 24-26 minutes tonight. The Thunder could’ve definitely used him out there more as he was shooting really well, especially from 3, and was really one of the only bright spots on defense outside of Roberson.
- The Blazers last game in Minnesota was postponed due to the condition of the court. The Minnesota arena had hosted a 5-day stretch of Disney on Ice and there was an ice sheet beneath the court. Due to abnormally warm weather in the area, the condensation from the ice caused the floor to be slick and the game was ultimately postponed. Meyers Leonard described the court as, “Slicer than snot”.
- The defense overall by the Thunder was horrible. They weren’t defending the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop well. They were allowing the Blazers to get wide open mid-range jumpers. They weren’t fighting over screens, which is something you have to do against the Blazers solid backcourt. Andre Roberson was the one player who had a decent defensive night. He made a few mistakes, but overall, he was all hustle and aggressiveness and used his length to bother the Blazer guards as much as possible.
- The Thunder shot extremely well in the first half and should have been up by much more than 6, but their poor defense and 10 turnovers allowed the Blazers to keep it close.
- Doug McDermott didn’t attempt a field goal in 8 first half minutes. The Thunder have to find ways to get him open looks and Doug has to start knocking some shots down.
- Meyers Leonard was a +24 tonight…
- Noah Vonleh played really well tonight and was a beast on the offensive glass. He’s been playing really well in increased minutes for the Blazers lately.
- Damian Lillard can’t guard Russell Westbrook. That’s a fact.
- Aminu has been playing so well for the Blazers. He’s a solid rim protector and good all-around defender. Add in the fact that he’s been knocking down his shots lately, and he’s been really filling the coveted role of a “3 and D” guy for Portland.
- The two games I’ve watched Nurkic play for the Blazers (both Thunder games), he’s looked like a really good player and he’s making that trade look like a win for Portland.
- In other news around the league, Dirk got to 30,000 career points tonight. The only others to reach that mark are Jordan, Kareem, The Mail Man, Wilt and Kobe.
- Oh, and thankfully I was reminded of this today. Hopefully this can lighten everyone’s mood a little after that loss.
Next Up: At home against the Spurs on Thursday at 7 CST.