By Randy Renner
The shorthanded Oklahoma City Thunder looked surprisingly good for three quarters last night in Portland, unfortunately they have to play four in the NBA.
The Thunder managed just 12 points in that final stanza and lost to the Trail Blazers 105-89.
The final score was pretty much what most NBA media members and probably most fans, figured it would be. The surprise was how well the Thunder managed to hang in for the first 36 minutes.
"I thought our guys played their hearts out," said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks after the game. "We didn't play well in that fourth quarter, a few too many breakdowns, buit I thought we played hard."
Point guard Russell Westbrook had 26 points by halftime and was in complete control of the game. In the second half the Blazers switched up defensive assignments, putting Nicolas Batum on Westbrook and that began changing the game. Russ finished with 38 points but he was just 4-for-13 in the final 24 minutes after going 7-for-13 from the field and 12-for-13 from the free throw line in the first 24 minutes.
The Thunder actually led by two points going into the fourth quarter but fatigue began to creep in and the poor play of Perry Jones for the entire game and even Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams at times finally doomed the Thunder.
Jones, filling in for the injured Kevin Durant, managed just three points on 1-for-9 shooting. Ibaka scored 10 and was just 4-for-11 and was abused by Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge had 27 points. Adams finished with eight points and seven rebounds but appeared lost at times both offensively and defensively.
The biggest individual surprise had to be Lance Thomas, who was brought in originally only for training camp. All the Thunder injuries prompted the team to sign one of the four players they brought in for camp and Thomas was the one because he showed the most promise.
Last night in Portland Thomas scored 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting. 10 of those points came in the first quarter when Thomas seemed to be everywhere.
The way Thomas played last night you'd think he's earned more playing time, maybe even when the Thunder get some guys back off the ever expanding injury list.
Jones' play was probably the most disappointing. He was never a factor on either end of the floor. He played really well in a couple of preseason games and he needs to show something other than what we saw last night now that the games count.
Overall, last night's performance was better than what I expected. There were some encouraging signs. And tip your hat to Westbrook because he was superb most all night, forcing the Blazers to alter their defensive plan time and again until they finally settled on Batum.
As great as Russ was last night and as good as he can be moving forward he cannot do it by himself, guys like Jones will have to play better. More points and better defense is needed from Ibaka, whose performance was probably the second most disappointing behind Jones.
The Thunder desperately need to get Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb back in the lineup, those two of course didn't even make the trip.
So don't expect things to be any better tonight when the Thunder take on the LA Clippers. In fact since it's the second night of a back-to-back, the Thunder probably won't be able to hang in with the Clippers as long as they did with the Blazers.
Hopefully Jackson and Lamb will be able to get back on the floor Saturday night for the Thunder's home opener against Denver. That would at least give them a fighting chance. Until then it will be a very tough go.