The Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard had the chance to avenge Monday’s heartbreaking loss to oklahoma city thunder. Lillard even fired a last-second chance to take the lead in a nearly identical scenario to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s game-winner that ruined Lillard’s record-breaking night. But instead of memorable heroics, Lillard’s disputed elbow missed the rim and the Blazers fell on the road again 101-98.
Jerami Grant led the team with 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Lillard got off to a slow start and finished with 16 points and 8 assists. Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 27 points and 6 rebounds.
With the “how to” out of the way, little adjustment time was needed for both sides to get back into the swing of things from Monday. Oklahoma City had struck gold in the hills of driving it to the rack in the previous matchup and immediately doubled down on that tactic tonight. Josh Giddey, who didn’t play Monday, jumped right into the party, putting the Thunder on the board with a couple of transition buckets at the rim and it looked like the Blazers had their work cut out for them.
But as a veteran team, the Blazers responded with smart basketball, slowing down and relying on patience and ball movement to neutralize some of OKC’s youthful length and energy. Seven different Blazers scored in the period (even more amazing, Dame wasn’t one of them) and it felt like just about everyone who wore a Portland jersey was involved in one way or another.
With Thunder defenders on a rampage trying to chase the Blazers as they crawled across half court like a sliding puzzle, Josh Hart was the main beneficiary of the chaos. Hart made a perfect 4-4 from the floor in the fourth and led the way with 10 points as Portland began to build a lead. Shaedon Sharpe came off the bench and coolly knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, and Drew Eubanks, back in his reserve role, checked in and immediately launched a tomahawk alley-oop from the weakside.
More than at any other point in the contest on Monday, things were on trend for the Blazers and they were able to take a 32-22 lead after one.
A pair of baskets from Nurkic to lead off the quarter gave Portland a 14-point lead, but the rest of the way was tough. OKC proceeded to go on an 8-0 run over the next three minutes led by Giddey, who continued to punish the Blazers on the open floor. A baseline dunk from Eubanks on a pocket pass from Lillard helped stop the bleeding, but any hope of burying the Thunder early had been dashed. Portland would have to earn it.
Lillard began to get his own scoring back on track with 9 points in the period, but he had to work hard to get them. OKC essentially featured an NBA 2K lineup with five lanky, athletic, interchangeable defensemen who had all eyes on Lillard every time he sniffed the basketball. He was enough to hold back, but not get past Gilgeous-Alexander, who rallied down the stretch and scored 10 of the Thunder’s last 14 points. His length and shot creation gave the Blazers tantrums. Portland has strength and even some length of its own to throw to him, but when a player can get up and throw a 15-footer over a defender, a lot of that is negated.
The Blazers still held a lead, but OKC’s momentum was heading into halftime 54-49.
After Anfernee Simons and Jalen Williams exchanged long balls to open the third, both teams left somewhat content with three points and with little success, going a combined 0-5 record in the next four minutes. The ugly spell was broken by a straight 3-pointer from Nurkic, which really started the only positive stretch for Portland in the period. Justise Winslow knocked down a rare 3-pointer from the corner and then Lillard hit a 29-foot shot that gave the Blazers a 10-point lead at 70-60.
But the Thunder responded with another grueling run, outscoring Portland 16-4 in a span of four minutes behind Gilgeous-Alexander, who continued to play as if Portland had received its gift in the white elephant trade.
To make matters worse, at the 1-minute mark, Winslow fell on the foot of Kenrich Williams on a rebound attempt, spraining his ankle. He was slow to get up and appeared to be in pain as he exited the game and was helped to the locker room.
Another alley-oop finish from Eubanks tied the game at 78-78 heading into the final frame.
Portland was its own worst enemy for much of the quarter. After a couple of Trendon Watford baskets near the rim, the Blazers suddenly couldn’t keep their hands on the ball. Nurkic and Keon Johnson made erratic passes and Josh Hart was penalized after losing control against an OKC defender.
For every move Portland made, the Thunder countered. A Williams layup with 1:30 remaining gave OKC a 99-98 lead, and while Lillard and the Blazers had several opportunities to regain the lead, Portland couldn’t put together a solid appearance the rest of the way. Dame’s fader with 3 seconds remaining was about as ill-advised as one could recall from one of the game’s clutch masters.
The Thunder held on the rest of the way and came away with another last-minute win.
Until next time
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The Blazers will hop on a plane and head west to take on the denver nuggets Friday nights at 6 pm Pacific.