It’s always a big game when the Oklahoma City Thunder (13-4) come to town, tonight was no different. Go ahead and use the cliché that tonight felt like a playoff game, but make no doubt: the Portland Trail Blazers (16-3) need to get those big wins over the best teams in the league. And they are swiftly kicking everyone’s ass without looking in the rearview mirror.
A big performance against the East’s best on Monday, the Thunder are right on the heels of the Blazers in the Northwest Division and winners of eight-straight, looking for their seventh-straight victory over Portland. With Russell Westbrook back in the lineup this season, OKC has gotten back to their winning ways. The Thunder took an 11-point lead at the half, taking away the Blazers’ three-point shot and eating up second chance points like it was chocolate cake. But wouldn’t you know it: LaMarcus Aldridge puts the entire team and city on his back and dazzles in the second half, putting on an incredible show that made the Moda Center roar into “MVP” chants. Timely defensive stops, crucial free throws and some lucky three-pointers sealed the deal as the Blazers won 111-104 which was much closer than the score indicates.
It all started with Robin Lopez. Playing the part of “Batman and Robin” with Batum, he’s scoring on drives to the rim, midrange jumpers and second chance points that the Thunder dared him to shoot and he made them pay. It helped nicely as well when Kendrick Perkins and rookie center Steven Adams got into early foul trouble. The Portland guards wanted to push the tempo up quickly but threw the ball away on multiple times down the court, once Aldridge got the ball in his hands, things calmed down and the Blazers got to work. Oklahoma City did a great job disrupting the three-point shot, and got Damian Lillard into early foul problems as well. A Durant three tops a 7-0 run after both clubs were trading baskets and the Blazers second unit started to relax too much on defense, OKC is up 27-25 after 12 minutes.
Give credit to the Thunder bigs (mainly Serge Ibaka) who dominated and fought his way to gobble up second chance points. So many second chance points. Two white jerseys would run into each other going for the loose ball and allowing a blue jersey to come from behind and get an easy look right under the rim. A Mo Williams three brings Portland back up 43-42 but turnovers from the second unit kill any momentum to extend lead while Durant and Westbrook recharge. Their shooting percentage dips to as low as 40% as the Thunder go back up by eight after a Durant slam-dunk in transition off a turnover. Several bad calls in the last seconds of the half send Durant/Westbrook to the free throw line. The Blazers head to the locker room clearly frustrated, down 59-48 and looking for answers.
Aldridge was the answer. He’s going everything: working on Perkins and Ibaka, sizing up, posting up, knocking down fadaways, up-and-under post moves, getting to the free throw line, dunking, scoring on second chance points….
His firepower rubs off on the other Blazers as they too clamp down on defense (better job boxing out), getting to the charity line and letting Westbrook go on his one man show (even when he wasn’t hitting anything). Aldridge is responsible for 10 straight Portland points on 8-9 shooting for the quarter. A deep Williams three from the top of the key – give that assist to Aldridge – and Portland is up 83-80, outscoring OKC 35-21 in the third.
The bench unit wasn’t very spectacular in the second quarter, but their defensive stops made up for it in the fourth. Add some threes from Lillard and Dorell Wright; Thomas Robinson outworking Adams for loose boards and Wright blocking Jeremy Lamb’s fast-break lay-up and the Moda Center erupts when Portland gets back on top 91-84 with eight minutes left.
Then came the battle of the Western All-Stars: Aldridge vs. Durant. Blows are traded back and Aldridge has fire in his eyes as he puts the entire game on his shoulders. Durant misses a three-pointer that would’ve answered a big corner three Batum nails moments before. The Thunder, down four with less than a minute, has to start fouling. Aldridge steps up to the line, and with “MVP” chants raining down on him, he calmly swishes his free throws and Scott Brooks can’t believe Aldridge outplayed his prized possession and gets handed a tech, putting Lillard on the line to extend the lead. And once again, the forecast in the Moda Center saw heavy confetti rain down.
Who was Hot
- No question that 2013-14 is LaMarcus Aldridge’s best of his career; I mean we need to start considering Aldridge for MVP considerations, today. Hitting 17-28 of his shots, he registers 38 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, and two steals, zero turnovers in 37 minutes. He’s the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in March of 1994 with that kind of stat.
- Robin Lopez needs some quality recognition for what he’s doing battling the bigs down low every night. He, as well as Joel Freeland, are so good at throwing their hands up and disrupting shots that it forces the opponent to bail last-second and put up a tough shot, or pass it out and thus creating a turnover. Lopez finishes with 12 points, 10 rebounds (six offensive) and four blocked shots. Freeland had two blocks.
- All the other Blazers’ starters scored in double digits: Batum (14 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block), Lillard (14 points, six assists) and Wesley Matthews (13 points, five rebounds). Lillard and Matthews each took heavy time serving defender to Westbrook and Matthews clearly did a better job. Lillard would be too far away and get stuck on the pick while Matthews just hung on Westbrook like stink on a dog.
- Thomas Robinson played very well when called upon during his 11 minutes of action for five rebounds. Mo Williams and Dorell Wright each had seven points.
- Not a lot to say about Kevin Durant that hasn’t already been said before: 33 points, seven rebounds, 11-23 from the field, 10-12 free-throws and zero assists with four turnovers.
- Russell Westbrook was just slightly better in the assist column but much rather would want to be the only one making the shots: 21 points, five assists and three turnovers.
- Rebounds: Portland 47 – OKC 43
- Assists: Portland 22 – OKC 11
- Turnovers: slightly better though, Portland 11 – OKC 13
Who Was Cold
- Again, the three-point shot wasn’t there all the time but came in handy when the time came. The Thunder learned the hard way when you all have eyes on Aldridge and Lillard, you can’t forget Matthews, and then what about Batum? Too many open shooters, 8-23 for 34% while OKC was 5-11.
- Points in the paint: OKC 50 – Portland 38
- Fast break points: OKC 26 – Portland 4
No matter what the situation, the score, who’s got the hot hand or not, this Blazers team does not quit. You can’t outscore us; you can’t break us down and when the L-Train is on fire, get the hell out of the way. The Utah Jazz, who took it close against the Pacers, come into town on Friday.