Thunder Offense Still Missing, Blazers Win 114-94 for 2-0 Series Lead
The Oklahoma City Thunder lost in embarrassing fashion on Tuesday night, going down 0-2 to the Portland Trail Blazers with a 114-94 defeat at the Moda Center. Leading by double-digits in the final minutes of the second quarter, the Thunder took their foot off the gas and the offense stalled — as OKC finished 5-of-28 (18%) from three. Fueled by a 37-point third quarter which saw the Blazers shoot 62.5 percent from the floor, Terry Stotts and Billy Donovan emptied their bench in the final minutes of this one-sided matchup. CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard led all scorers with 33 and 29 points, with Paul George being the lone bright spot for the Thunder with 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the floor, despite his 2-of-7 struggles from deep. Russell Westbrook struggled from the floor, going 5-of-20 and finishing with 14 points.
The Thunder got out to an early seven-point lead midway through the first when Westbrook “rocked the baby” after a reverse layup over Lillard, capping an 11-2 Oklahoma City run. Portland quickly regained the lead with a 9-0 run of their own after CJ McCollum’s nifty cross over on Paul George put the Blazers up two. Dennis Schroder checked in and closed the quarter with some big plays — first with a pull-up after Raymond Felton’s steal in transition on Evan Turner, followed by a steal on Lillard which led to a Nerlens Noel transition dunk. A Schroder step back in the closing seconds put the Thunder up 31-26 after one.
Lillard’s desperation heave from distance over Terrance Ferguson with the shot clock approaching zero brought the Blazers to within six midway through the second, but George answered on the next trip down with a step back three over Al-Farouq Aminu. George started to let the Moda Center crowd know that the shoulder was feeling just right. The Thunder’s lead grew to as large as 10 following Westbrook’s explosive finish at the rack, but from that point on the former MVP left a lot to be desired to close the half.
Immediately following an airball elbow jumper, Westbrook coasted back on the defensive end, losing Lillard before Jerami Grant fouled Lillard for the four-point play at the 4:42 mark, trimming the Blazers’ deficit to four. Two minutes later, the Portland crowd was riled up after a brief exchange between the two point guards. Westbrook lost the ball and called a timeout right before he tried selling some very minimal contact courtesy of Lillard. Shortly after, Westbrook attempted an ill-advised triple, his second of that variety in the quarter.
With the Blazers trailing by three in the final seconds of the half, Schroder’s inability to stop Lillard’s dribble penetration created a wide open look for McCollum from distance, hitting nothing but net as the quarter buzzer rang with the score deadlocked at 54. George, Lillard, and McCollum led all scorers at the break with 16 points. Westbrook closed the first half with seven points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field.
McCollum’s jumper put Portland up two in the early minutes of the third and the Blazers wouldn’t look back. George had turnovers on back-to-back possessions, leading to a pair Blazers transition layups. Westbrook forced another triple, which led to a back-breaking deep triple from Lillard, igniting the raucous Portland crowd. A Ferguson dunk following a baseline cut trimmed the Thunder deficit to six in the closing minutes of the third, but the Thunder let Seth Curry get loose. Following a defensive breakdown, Curry’s three put the Blazers back up nine. A Schroder turnover courtesy of Lillard allowed another open three for Curry, this time in transition, pushing the Blazers lead to 12. Westbrook was called for an offensive foul, his fourth with 10.5 seconds remaining, leaving plenty of time for Lillard to hit a step-back three at the buzzer. The Blazers led 91-75 after three. The Thunder turned the ball over seven times in the quarter and were outscored 37-21.
The Blazers thumping continued throughout the fourth, with Billy Donovan pulling his starters at the 3:31 mark with the Thunder trailing by 21 points. The series now shifts back to Oklahoma City in must-win mode. Game 3 tips-off at 8:30 PM CT on Friday night — televised on ESPN and Fox Sports Oklahoma.
Same Stuff, Different Day: Many in Thunder circles couldn’t fathom a similarly abysmal offensive output from Game One to Game Two. No way they can shoot that bad from three, right? As a reminder, this team was one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA following the All-Star break. Their offensive rating (109.1) was fifth worst in the NBA, and their 33.4 percent shooting from three was fourth worst in the Association. To simply expect this team to all of a sudden find offense just because clearly wasn’t warranted. The Thunder answered their 15.2 percent shooting from three in Game One with an equally laughable 17.9 percent in Game Two. George (2/7), Russ (1/6), Grant (0/5), Ferguson (1/5) — it was all bad.
Defending The 3: Oklahoma City held Portland to 28.6 percent from three over the course of their four regular season matchups, but like Game One, the floodgates were open for the Trail Blazers in Game Two. Lillard and McCollum had zero problems whatsoever carving up the Thunder defense with their dribble penetration, creating quality looks for each other and Seth Curry. The Blazers shot 40.6 percent from deep tonight, which won’t get the job done for the Thunder.
Your Turn, My Turn: No, I’m not talking about the half-court offense the Thunder have succumbed to over the last decade. I’m referring to the reoccurring theme where one of the Thunder All-Stars is continuously forced to pick up the slack for the other. In Game One, it was Westbrook’s triple-double trying to will the Thunder to victory despite George’s struggles from the floor. Tonight, it was George’s 27 points on 11/20 shooting having to make up for Westbrook’s wildly inefficient 14 points on 5/20 from the floor, including 1/6 from three. This franchise has always been built around their two stars. For whatever reason, these two rarely play at a high level on the same night.
Gut-Check Time: The Thunder haven’t won a road playoff game since 2016, having gone 0-11 since their Game One win over Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. This is the matchup that many Thunder supporters craved — going against a depleted Blazers team without their starting center in Jusuf Nurkic, and McCollum coming back from a potentially devastating knee sprain. With the Thunder staring down the barrel of a yet another early first round exit, how will this team respond in Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday night?