OKC breaks the curse, Thunder win in Portland: Five thoughts
By: Alberto Bodei, Staff Writer
Last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Portland Trailblazers, 111-109 the final score.
After straight consecutive losses in Oregon, and after being swept last regular season, the Thunder finally earned a win in Portland.
It hasn’t been easy of course, and nobody expected to be, because the Blazers are a really good team, especially at home. But the Thunder, as they did many times already this season, battled for the whole game, never lost composure, and will go home with a successful 2-0 road trip.
After being down as many as eleven points in the second quarter, Oklahoma City climbed back possession after possession. The Thunder played a dominant third quarter, and they were able to take control of the game late in the fourth, thanks to some solid defensive plays by Nerlens Noel.
Oklahoma City led by ten points with a little more of four minutes to play and then again eight points with less than two minutes left. Some silly fouls and sloppy possessions brought the Balzers back in the game. However, first Lillard, and then McCollum, missed the opportunity to tie the score to 109. On the next possession, Paul George sank the free throws which gave the Thunder this important win.
During the postgame interviews Westbrook said that this game was personal for him, and after what was probably the worst shooting night of Westbrook’s career, he bounced back. He scored thirty-one points while shooting 46.4% from the floor (13-28 FG, 0-2 3PT, 5-6 FT). Westbrook also added nine rebounds, seven assists, one steal, and only three turnovers. Westbrook played another solid game defensively, and it’s really satisfying to see him taking so much pride in being a great defender. The Thunder’s star controlled the tempo perfectly down the stretch, trusted his teammates, and took smart shots.
Well, there is not much more to say about Paul George. He is playing an MVP type of basketball right now, and game after game, he keeps on looking unstoppable. Last night, George finished with thirty-seven points (14th game this season with 30+ points) on a 10-23 FG, 5-9 3PT, 12-14 FT shooting split, eight rebounds, two assists, one steal, and three turnovers. Not only George is a force on offense, but he is always a constant power on defense. Every time the team has struggled on offense, like against the Balzers in the first half, George makes sure to keep the team in the game with his scoring: smooth, elite, effective basketball.
Nerlens Noel played another fantastic game, this time around, on both ends of the floor. First of all, Noel was perfect on offense. He scored ten points, 4-4 from the floor, 2-2 from the line, and two offensive rebounds. Then, he was crucial on defense with two consecutive steals on Lillard to help the Thunder gain the biggest lead of the game. Noel is betting on himself this season on a team-friendly contract, and Oklahoma City had been rewarded by Nerlens’ effort, especially on the defensive end.
Once again, playing a solid defensive game, helped the Thunder win another game against a tough opponent. In the first half, Oklahoma City had some issues with the pick and roll defense on Nurkic, mostly because the weak side wasn't helping correctly. However, they fixed it during the second half (Nurkic scored only six points, four on free throws, in the second half). The physicality which Oklahoma City is using on the defensive end is creating problems for a lot of teams. The hardest thing to do when playing so physical is to do not commit too many fouls. I think the Thunder did a good job yesterday on that aspect against the Blazers.
When the Thunder started this season 0-4, Billy Donovan caught all the fire. However, since the rough start, Oklahoma City has the best record in the league, and Donovan is a big part of this success. He built a perfect defensive system, and most importantly all the players bought in it. Donovan deserves a lot of credit for the team’s improvements. Not only general improvements on both ends of the floor but also the rotations are better, fewer experiments and more consistency, without lowering the players’ confidence. So far, without a doubt, Donovan should be in the conversation for coach of the year.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will play at home on Sunday against the Washington Wizards. Tip-off 6 pm CT.