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Thursday Bolts: 4.18.19

Jared Dubin (FanSided) on what we’ve learned from the first two games of Thunder/Blazers: “Oklahoma City should, in theory, be well-equipped to deal with the Blazers’ supplementary players. Kanter is difficult to guard on the block, has good footwork in pick-and-roll situations, and crashes the offensive glass as well as anyone in the league, but all of those things are defensive strengths of Adams. He is one of the league’s best post defenders. He is used to sliding his feet and sticking with guards and bigs in pick-and-rolls. And he’s a premier box-out guy. If he can’t handle Kanter and keep him from impacting the game in positive ways, that’s a big issue for the Thunder. Adams did a far better job on him in Game 2, but other problems presented themselves elsewhere. Not having Andre Roberson as another defensive option on the perimeter hurts the Thunder greatly in this series. Terrance Ferguson is getting fried by McCollum (CJ is 8-of-13 from the field and the Blazers have scored 76 points on the 60 possessions where Ferguson has been McCollum’s primary defender, per Second Spectrum matchup data on NBA.com), and there’s not much reason to think he’d any do better defending Lillard.”

Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on the Thunder’s shooting issues being on display in the postseason: “Some of the Thunder’s struggles on offense will likely turn in Oklahoma City. According to NBA.com, the Thunder is shooting 27.8 percent on “wide open” shots (closest defender is six feet away or more), including 20 percent on “wide open” 3-pointers. Jerami Grant (0-of-8 from 3) won’t go an entire series without a 3. But there’s really no telling with Westbrook and Schroder, a combined 1-of-18 from deep in two games. Much of what is happening against the Blazers is the Thunder’s deficiencies on display. The Thunder is trying to take the most efficient shots to suit its personnel – catch-and-shoot 3-pointers off penetration, shots at the rim, second-chance opportunities, fast break buckets. Westbrook deserves credit, as does Donovan, for bending the offense to produce more efficient shots. Yet, this statistical rundown, which has been documented before in The Oklahoman, warrants another mention: The Thunder wasn’t above-average at any shot distance this season.”

Jeff Siegel (EarlyBirdRights) on what Steven Adams’ floater adds to the Thunder’s spacing: “The playoffs are a game of weaknesses, and Presti has bet heavily over the last few years on building a defense devoid of weaknesses, even if it brings their offensive ceiling down. It feels odd to say that Adams, who really can’t shoot outside of the paint, provides “spacing” to the team’s offense, but the difference between only being able to shoot at the rim and being able to hit short hooks and floaters from 5-6 feet gives them a different kind of spacing. His efficiency from these areas and ability to rise over Kanter’s contest makes him a valuable component of their offensive attack, especially in pick-and-roll with Westbrook, and is something that should be featured more heavily as the Thunder move forward in this series. Eschewing post-ups, which play right into Kanter’s strengths, and adding more pick-and-roll to their attacking profile, will give the Thunder offense a boost they desperately need. Every fraction of a point is important in the playoffs, especially in a closely contested series, and Oklahoma City will want to maximize every trip down the floor if they’re going to take advantage of their very real opportunity to make the Conference Finals this season.”

John Canzano (Oregon Live) spoke with Berry Tramel about if the Thunder are set to fold vs Portland: “On Russell Westbrook: “He is a nightmare to try to cover if you want to interview him. He doesn’t answer any of my questions, but the truth is he really doesn’t answer anybody’s questions. He just does it with different words with me. Over and over. He’s not the least bit insightful. But you said it John, you can’t take your eyes off him. Every game the Thunder play is interesting. They’re wildly entertaining and he’s a big part of that, and has been, frankly for 11 years. He’s an Oklahoma institution. We’re glad we’ve got him. We’re glad he’s here, but he can frustrate the heck out of you in the press conference.”

Scott Polacek (B/R) on why Westbrook can’t allow himself to focus on Damian Lillard: “Westbrook appeared to press at times, trying to match his counterpart’s effort instead of facilitating for George and attempting to use his explosiveness to work in the lane and create easier looks. As a result, he was 1-of-6 from three-point range, shot 25 percent from the field and turned it over six times. It is not particularly surprising Westbrook focused so much on matching Lillard given their recent history. Cody Taylor of USA Today‘s Thunder Wire noted the Thunder point guard appeared to tell Lillard he has “been busting that ass for years” during a regular-season matchup and didn’t hesitate to taunt the Portland fans.”

Patrick Redford (Deadspin) on the struggles of Russell Westbrook: “The sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder were such a popular pick to upset the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs that it’s hardly fair to even call them the underdogs. Only one of ESPN’s panel of 20 analysts picked the Blazers to take the series, and the thinking was fairly uniform; not only would the Blazers have to rely on the sieve-like Enes Kanter, they would have to contend with a fearsome OKC defense while also struggling to contend with Russell Westbrook’s game-breaking athleticism and Paul George’s shot-making abilities. Through two losses to the Blazers, Westbrook hasn’t looked up to the task. Westbrook has never been even an average three-point shooter, but his inability to even get Portland to respect his shot is gumming up the Thunder’s already sticky offense. Defenders have spent all season sagging off Westbrook, and he responded by shooting 29 percent from three, while also shooting from deep at the second highest rate of his career. He’s just 1-for-10 this series from long distance, and 13-for-37 overall. With Jerami Grant and Dennis Schroeder also struggling (they’re a combined 0-for-16), the onus falls on Paul George to spread the offense out all by himself, which is too much to ask.”