Third consecutive win, Thunder defeat Blazers: Five Thoughts
By Alberto Bodei, Staff Writer
In another incredible game, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Portland Trailblazers. 123-114 the final score.
Every time these two teams meet, something special happens. This time was no exception. The Thunder led for almost the whole game, actually, Portland held the lead for only thirteen seconds, in the first quarter, 21-20. After being tied in the first twelve minutes, Oklahoma City took control in the second where it outscored Portland 37-30.
However, after the long break, and despite less rest due to the game in Utah the night before, Portland seemed to be the fresher team. CJ McCullom led the way with twenty-one points (5-6 from behind the arc) in the third quarter. Nevertheless, with McCullom catching fire, the Blazers took only one point away from the Thunder’s lead. This because Oklahoma City was able to reply shot after shot.
In the last quarter, the Thunder tried to make a few runs, but Portland always stayed at a close distance, until the last three minutes. This is when Paul George and Russell Westbrook took over and made the final push. The Blazers didn’t have the power to reply, and Oklahoma City won the third straight game.
After last night’s win, the Thunder are now 2-0 against Portland this season, and still third in the Western Conference with a 29-18 record.
Paul George, two-way player
There will be always a discussion about this, but I think, this season, Paul George is the best two-way player in the league. George is an absolute force on offense, he can score in any way, and defenses seem unable to stop him. But this is not all. He is one of the top defenders in the NBA, he can lock down any player, he always knows where to stand and how to help. Paul George is second in steals (2.3 per game), first in deflections (3.8), and first in loose ball recovered (2.3). Last night, the MVP candidate finished with thirty-six points (10-21 FG, 3-6 3PT, 13-15 FT), eight rebounds, four assists, five steals, one block, and only three turnovers. Geroge continues to have a career year.
Russell Westbrook, still athletic
How about all that chatter about Russell Westbrook losing is athleticism? Well, last night, the former MVP proceeded to silent some of these rumors. Westbrook played maybe his best game of the season. He was aggressive on both ends of the floor. The two aspects I liked the most have been his attacking the basket (dunks and drives), and his free-throw shooting. We can easily say that both are related. When Westbrook attacks the basket, most of the times it translates on a trip to the line. Against the Blazers, he made sure to be efficient from that area (10-12).
In the past ten games, Westbrook is shooting 72.2% from the line, and it’s up to 75% in the past five games. After a surprisingly bad start, Russell seems to be finally catching up with his career average.
Terrence Ferguson, claw
Terrence Ferguson had another stellar performance. Not only he was a threat on offense, where he scored fourteen points while shooting 6-8 from the floor and 2-4 from behind the arc, but he played some outstanding defense. Sure, in the third quarter McCullom made him suffer and run all over the place, but for most of the game, Terrence was able to contain him. Ferguson will run over screens and will stay aggressive at all times. It’s a joy to see him fighting, and succeed, on the defensive end of the floor. To the fourteen points, Ferguson added two rebounds, one assist, and four steals.
Box-out, not good
If there is a negative takeaway from the game against the Blazers, then it’s without a doubt the boxing out. The Thunder weren’t able to keep Portland’s players away from the glass, and this is the main reason why the Blazers stayed in the game so long. Oklahoma City allowed twenty offensive rebounds which translated in nineteen Portland’s points. Most of these offensive rebounds came after three-pointers. The ball bounced long a few times, but this is cannot be an excuse to do not box out, especially in a close game.
New Rotation, smart
I like what Billy Donovan did with his rotations last night. He took Paul George out in the first part of the first and third quarter, and he put him back to give Westbrook a breather. It worked out perfectly because Oklahoma City had one of his two best players always on the court. With a second unit struggling for most of the season on both ends of the floor, staggering George and Westbrook really helped. Now, it will be interesting to see if it was just a match-up tactic against the Blazers, or if it will become the norm. Also, this new rotation kept Diallo out of the court. Maybe it will change when Abrines is back?
The Thunder will play again at home, on Thursday night, against the New Orleans Pelicans. Tip-off 7 pm CT.