Kendrick Perkins had been all over LaMarcus Aldridge all night, and the tenacious defense finally paid off. Aldridge air balled a 19 footer in an 85-83 Thunder lead, and two free throws by Russell Westbrook capped off an 87-83 at the Rose Garden in Portland.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, in the absence of an injured Thabo Sefolosha (neck strain) and Serge Ibaka (chest contusion), featured a different starting lineup for the first time in 80 straight games, dating back to a Kendrick Perkins abdominal injury last season. DeAndre Liggins and Nick Collison filled in, respectively.
The Portland Trail Blazers had won 9 home games in a row, and were looking to exploit the Thunder’s injury depleted lineup to keep the streak alive, and move to within a game of second in the Northwest Division. Their last home win, a nail biter, came 92-90 against the defending champion Miami Heat.
Kevin Durant, despite a quiet first half, logging 11 points, erupted for 22 points to lead the team. Russell Westbrook struggled from the field, finishing 5-21 with 18 points, but hit a huge 3-pointer which would extend the Thunder lead to 10 late in the fourth. LaMarcus Aldridge finished with a double-double, 33 points and 11 rebounds, but missed his last two shots, the last of which was the 19 foot air ball that would have tied the game.
Oklahoma City jumped out to an early first quarter lead, but the Trail Blazers kept fighting back in it, cutting the Thunder lead to 18-17 before the 2nd unit for the Thunder pushed the lead to 22-19 at the end of the first quarter. That second unit, which featured rotations that we haven’t seen this year, only scored 6 points after star forward Kevin Durant left after logging 8 first quarter minutes. The defense, which would set the tone for the rest of the game, was not giving up many open looks, and forcing Portland to put up contested mid to long range jumpers, and the Thunder outscored Portland 46-30 in the paint.
Portland kept fighting, and would eventually take their first lead after Durant fouled Nicolas Batum in the act of shooting a 3, part of a 12-1 burst by the Trail blazers. DeAndre Liggins, in his first career start, hit a layup at 2:25 left in the half, the Thunder’s first basket since the 6:13 mark in the quarter. The Thunder would trail by 5, but cut the deficit to 43-42 at halftime. The Portland lead was despite 35% shooting from the field. Turnovers, would, as they usually do, hurt the Thunder, as their 16 game turnovers turned into 19 points for the Trail Blazers.
The Thunder would erupt in the third, jumping out to a 9 point lead behind a 26-16 quarter, and would use a late Fourth Quarter run to extend back to 10, at 84-74, after the Trail Blazers kept clawing back in. That mark, 3:34 left in the fourth frame, would serve as the Thunder’s last field goal of the game, as Westbrook dropped his big 3 ball. Portland would come nearly all the way back, forcing a Kevin Durant turnover, 4 missed shots, and a shot clock violation, and found themselves knocking on the door after a big three pointer by Nicolas Batum to cut the lead the 84-83. The Thunder would inbound, and a no-call on an intentional foul would lead to a steal by Damien Lillard with a chance to take the lead with under 10 seconds to play. A missed layup by Batum and miss by Aldridge, however, coupled with a pair of Westbrook and one by Perkins would seal the deal, and the Thunder would take the 87-83 win to improve to 29-8 on the season, the best record in the NBA.
Keys to the Game
Defend Lillard: A+
Damian Lillard, fresh off his game of 37 points was really stifled tonight. Oklahoma City, mainly Westbrook, just shut the rookie down. Lillard was just 3-of-14 from the floor. He turned the ball over three times, and was pretty much a non-factor for most of the game. Oklahoma City did a great job against the favorite for the Rookie of the Year.
Points in the Paint: A+
Oklahoma City improved to 20-2 on the season when they outscore their opponent in the points in the paint category. Oklahoma City outscored the Trail Blazers 46-30 in the paint. That includes 30-15 in the first half. The Thunder did a good job of punishing Portland in the paint
Take the crowd out of it: C
Oklahoma City didn’t exactly blow the Trail Blazers out of the water. So, the Garden was in it, effecting the game. Oklahoma City did a good job, even as a sixth man. That’s all you can really ask for in that situation.
DeAndre Liggins had a career night. He earned his first start, and logged career highs in minutes (40), points (11), and rebounds (9). The second year pro started the season as the 15th player on the roster, and has had several starts in Tulsa for the NBA D-League 66ers.
Portland, a team that lives and dies by long-range shooting, was an abysmal 36% from the floor, and 28.6% from beyond the arc. They are shooting 34.4% on the season from 3-point range, and 43.6% from the field.
A rare over-and-back call was made in the 2nd quarter, as Russell Westbrook retreated behind half court to recieve a base-line in bounds. While acceptbale and common practice in college, this is an infraction the NBA.
The Thunder, second in the NBA in blocks with 7.3 per game, didn’t get their first block of the game until Hasheem Thabeet blocked a shot with 2 seconds left in the first half. The Thunder finished with only 3.
Russell Westbrook was called for a technical foul for making an aggressive gesture after a charge call, and about drew another one when he slammed the ball down after another call he didn’t like.