Thunder pull away from Blazers early 106-90
The Oklahoma City Thunder are starting to round into shape as a contender in the Western Conference and the Portland Trail Blazers were just another stepping stone in their progress Wednesday night. The Thunder soundly beat the Blazers 106-90 in Oklahoma City for their sixth straight win. Kevin Durant had 24 points to lead the Thunder. CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 24 points and Damian Lillard had 20 points.
Lillard had a tough night going 6-for-20 from the field and also turning his ankle late in the first half. His night was more or less cancelled out by a rough night from Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. But Oklahoma City’s bench was a key in this one, getting 18 points from Dion Waiters and a 12-point, 12-rebound night from Enes Kanter.
Things started off well for the Blazers in Oklahoma City as CJ McCollum was setting the nets on fire. Either because of the Thunder defense zeroing in on Lillard or McCollum just having one of those nights, McCollum lit poor Andre Roberson up for 12 of Portland’s first 15 points. The Thunder only had success guarding McCollum once Lillard went to the bench.
In the second quarter, Portland’s scoring problems outside the dynamic duo were once again a weakspot. Allen Crabbe seemed to turn an ankle near the end of the first quarter and just didn’t seem as effective. Without an effective third scorer, the Blazers couldn’t hang with the Thunder who were just humming along with their elite offense, even while Durant and Westbrook started off quietly.
The Thunder got off to a great start offensively, scoring 31 points in the third quarter despite only getting nine points from Durant and Westbrook. Though Westbrook did have four assists. Lillard was Portland’s saving grace, scoring 20 first half points including a personal 6-0 run to get the Blazers within seven at halftime.
The Thunder’s superstars picked up their game and Portland struggled offensively. It hurt to watch Portland try to execute their offense Wednesday night. And while the Blazers have had their scoring droughts and plenty of ugly moments throughout the season, tonight was one of their worse nights from a watchability standpoint. Their problems offensively only got worse and Durant started to take over.
Durant–when healthy–has looked even better than before and he has started to round into shape over the last couple of weeks. The Thunder got him on smaller Blazers defenders on switches which worked to Oklahoma City’s advantage. Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless and Allen Crabbe all had their chances against Durant but none had much success.
The Thunder bench, which outplayed the Blazers second unit in the first half, continued that trend in the fourth quarter. Waiters played solid defense all night and scored when needed. Enes Kanter outplayed all of Portland’s reserve bigs. Meyers Leonard continued to play like a shell of himself and Ed Davis brought energy but it wasn’t much of a difference maker.
The Blazers tried to come back and forced Oklahoma City to take a couple of timeouts in the final period but Lillard didn’t re-enter the game in the 4th quarter. With this just the first game of a five-game road trip, no doubt the toughest on the schedule, it wasn’t a bad night to save Lillard some energy.
Wednesday was one of Portland’s worst offensive games and it’s a credit to the Thunder defense, which hasn’t played up to the elite level they’re expected to be and were for several seasons under Scott Brooks.
The Blazers haven’t had many nights like Wednesday. But their bench that was reliable a few weeks ago struggled to produce. Plumlee produced but was inefficient and was forced to take too many shots, which was a credit to the Thunder for forcing the ball away from Portland’s better options. The Blazers struggled and this one wasn’t close, which is a difference from what we’ve seen this year. But it may be a more accurate reflection of how far this team has to go.
- Leonard didn’t have any trouble scoring off the bench immediately after coming back from his shoulder injury. But he has struggled since having a game-winner (correction: game-tying floater) blocked against Milwaukee, which happened shortly after Terry Stotts told reporters that he wouldn’t change the starting line-up. A starting line-up which has been pretty good for the Blazers and one of their better line-ups overall. Since that blocked floater against John Henson, Leonard has gone 1-for-13 (7 percent) from long-range and 9-for-32 (29 percent) from the field. CSNNW’s Jason Quick reported on air that Meyers Leonard said that he feels that “he’s a starter in his heart.” But a public demotion and followed by a missed chance to be the hero in a tough spot on the road probably wasn’t a great combination.
- Look! It’s the real Gerald Henderson! Henderson is going to have his nights offensively, but he’s never been an efficient scorer and counting on him to be a consistent scoring option isn’t smart. The Blazers do need a third scoring option to step up, but it’s not going to be Henderson. At times its been Plumlee, at times its been Aminu or Crabbe or Meyers Leonard. He is starting to fit in a little bit better in Portland’s offense and he’ll have his nights where he can get hot. But Portland can count on him for defense, veteran know-how and whatever he gets offensively is a bonus. He also probably won’t be here next year.
- Tim Frazier got some real minutes in this game while the Blazers were still in the game. But I still don’t see a place to play him consistently as I’ve seen some fans/articles demand. Back-to-backs when Lillard and McCollum don’t have the legs seem like the best time to use him. McCollum and Lillard are both capable of running the offense and playing without one of those two on the court is a no-no if the Blazers want to score. Against teams that play a lot of guards, like an Orlando Magic squad, maybe they can get away with it Frazer and Lillard or Frazier and McCollum. Harkless hasn’t done much in a few games. But he has shown he can rebound effectively, is 6-9 and you can throw him on good offensive players with hopes of maybe bothering them. Frazier’s 3-point shot does look better and I’m not against seeing more of him. But it’s just hard to find minutes for him or places where he’ll help his team. We’ll see him get run at some point this season, we’ll just have to wait.