Knee Jerk Reactions: Thunder 106, Blazers 92
Damian Lillard provides the curve on this one. It’s Game No. 2 and Lillard continues to impress. Lillard scored 21 points and joined LeBron James (2003) as the only NBA players to drop 21 or more in first two career games. And pay no mind that it was 21 points on 19 shots. Lillard was much more a jump shooter tonight and only went to the free-throw line once. So don’t look at the number of shots but study the percentage – 9 of 19 for 47 percent. That’s a great figure especially considering that he took 12 shots from outside the paint. Lillard was the only Blazer who was on tonight.
But if only the game was 24 and not a full 48 minutes, then we’d be shouting out Wesley Matthews here as well. Through the first half, Matthews was throwing up the three salute all over the place after making 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. Matthews led his team with 14 points at the break and he was the one who had kept the cold-shooting Blazers in the first half. Dude was red hot – then, I guess someone turned on the air conditioning inside the Thunder’s visiting locker room. Matthews went scoreless through the third quarter and made just one of four shots through the fourth quarter. After his torrid start, Matthews finished 5 of 15 for 16 points – if you’re paying attention, that’s just two points through the second half.
Nicolas Batum had the toughest assignment of the night when matching up against the three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant. Understanding this, any rational person would’ve guessed that Batum’s offense would scale back. But not this much.
Batum made only 1 shot in 11 attempts (.091%) for his worst offensive night since January 17, 2011 (Minnesota, another 1 for 11 performance) while an efficient Durant made 7 of 14 for 23 points and also added 17 rebounds and 7 assists. Durant’s only blemish was those six turnovers but still, this magnified the huge discrepancy between an elite player and one still on the rise.
Again, I get it: He’s guarding Durant. I didn’t expect another 26 points out of Batum – although the Blazers would have needed it to win this game – but who would have thought he’d play this bad? There was a sequence when Batum, mired in the shooting slump, was not working for a good look and bricked a long jumper. Back on defense, Batum retreated too deep and fell asleep as Durant walked into an open three. That just can’t happen. Batum needed to either produce some buckets, or do a better job keeping Durant from a 23, 17 and 7 night. He did neither.
LaMarcus Aldridge picked up five fouls and a technical after getting in the face of his nemesis Kendrick Perkins but he led the team with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Anytime L.A. plays that strong under the rim, does that make you want to get off his back about rebounding? It should.
Joel Freeland and Jared Jeffries both got on the floor together for the first time in the second quarter. Freeland tried to give some offense – putting the ball on the floor and missing a 7-footer then hitting the front of the rim on a deep two – while Jeffries produced zeroes across his statistical line during his 4 minutes and 59 seconds on the floor.
After collecting two quick whistles in the first quarter, J.J. Hickson remained aggressive and gave the Blazers another double-double (14 and 12) performance. Hickson played his best stretch through the third quarter while the Blazers had a chance to take over the lead. Near the six and a half-minute mark, Matthews had to toss up a shot near halfcourt to beat the shot clock. It hit the rim and bounced long to Hickson, who filled the lane for the put-back slam. Hickson collected another offensive rebound and got fouled but missed both free throws when the Blazers could have cut into the Thunder’s 60-56 advantage.
Bench: B for Babbitt… but C- overall
For the second consecutive game, the Blazers got consistent production from only one reserve player. On Wednesday night, it was Sasha Pavlovic scoring 7 of the 11 bench points. Tonight, Luke Babbitt assumed the role as bench hero. Babbitt checked in at the 3:58 mark of the third quarter and nine seconds later, he lifted a 3-pointer that ripped the net. Babbitt’s triple was significant as it not only pulled the Blazers to within 62-61 but his field goal also marked the first points from the bench. Simply put, Portland cannot wait till the third quarter is nearly up to get some bench production.
Babbitt’s bucket should have given the Blazers a boost but they could not overcome the one-point deficit. By the end of the third quarter, the OKC lead had snowballed to 8 points.
Babbitt finished with 8, while the rest of his bench mates combined for 7 points.
Oklahoma City dominated the Blazers with 44 points in the paint without an inside scoring threat. The Thunder’s offensively-challenged Nick Collison was a perfect 3 for 3 within the paint while Russell Westbrook had a good bounce-back game scoring 8 of his 32 points from short range. Westbrook also dropped in 6 assists to only 1 turnover.
Transition defense was also a problem as the Thunder scored 23 points on the break. One glaring mistake came with 6:18 remaining in the game. Lillard missed the 3-point attempt and after OKC cleared the ball, Durant looked up and skipped a long pass to Kevin Martin all alone on the other end. Martin drained the wide-open triple and the Thunder went up 89-79. Martin also found a hole in Portland’s zone look in the fourth quarter, scoring way too easy with a pump fake that lost the late-closing Batum. Martin scored 19 as the Thunder sixth man.