Lillard Slays Melo-less Thunder as Weezy Watches

The Portland Trail Blazers were able to thwart an Oklahoma City Thunder fourth quarter rally to escape Sunday night with a victory in front of Lil Wayne and the Rip City faithful. Damian Lillard exploded for 36 points and 13 assists—leading to the narrow 103-99 win. Carmelo Anthony’s ejection in the third quarter hurt OKC’s chances, but the Blazers’ Big 3 proved to be too much for the Thunder to handle.

Game Flow

Dame got things started by parlaying the Thunder’s focus on him into open looks for his teammates. Maurice Harkless and CJ McCollum converted early baskets to give the Blazers a two-point advantage after three minutes, prompting an OKC timeout. Anthony helped the Thunder keep pace with nine straight points, but Lillard continued to find teammates after attacking a surprisingly soft Thunder interior defense.

Paul George led Oklahoma City to within three points with two minutes remaining in the first, but Ed Davis was able to protect Portland’s lead by putting the clamps down on the defensive end. The Blazers ended the quarter up 28-20, led by Dame’s seven assists.

The Thunder started the second quarter by forcing rookie Caleb Swanigan to defend Melo. Anthony was unable to match his effectiveness, but was able to cut Portland’s lead to two at the 9:24 mark. Swanigan returned the favor at the offensive end by converting a hook shot after backing Anthony into the paint.

Russell Westbrook finally made his presence felt halfway through the second quarter with a quick five-point flurry. Jusuf Nurkic ended Westbrook’s momentum with a lead-preserving block with 5:30 to go in the half. Lillard and Nurkic built the Blazers’ lead back to five by repeatedly putting Steven Adams in pick-and-roll situations. The Blazers withstood a run by the Thunder in the final three minutes, giving them a 50-46 advantage after two quarters.

Second Half

Both teams emerged from the locker room groggy, and proceeding to exchange turnovers in the first two minutes of the half. After focusing on his teammates earlier, Lillard started his own assault on the boxscore by building Portland’s lead to seven following three free throws after being fouled by Westbrook.

Nurkic was able to protect the paint on defense as the Blazers built their lead, and play intensified as the quarter hit the midway point. Things came to a head with Anthony’s ejection at the 4:26 mark. Portland rode the momentum of the ejection, and built a seemingly stout 17-point lead after Lillard’s step-back jumper over Adams inside the three-minute mark. Raymond Felton was summoned off OKC’s bench and cut into the deficit, helping the Thunder finish the quarter down by just 11.

Felton was able to keep things rolling after the break between quarters by fueling an 8-0 run by the Thunder. Nurkic stopped the advance, returning to work in the post with an exquisite over-the-shoulder shot with just over eight minutes remaining.

Jerami Grant and Felton kept the Thunder on the Blazers’ heels by sinking midrange buckets, but Nurkic was able to push Portland’s lead back to eight by converting a three-point play. The Blazers’ lead evaporated quickly after Westbrook converted a 3-pointer followed by a wide-open midrange jumper, bringing OKC within three with 3:41 remaining. The pace accelerated down the stretch, leading to an outside shooting duel between George and McCollum.

Dame’s driving finish over Westbrook gave Portland a four-point lead with under 30 seconds to go, prompting a Thunder timeout. Westbrook emerged to get to the line for three shots after an Evan Turner foul, but failed to turn the transgression into a single point for OKC. Despite some sloppy inbounding by the Blazers, they escaped with a four-point victory.

Analysis

23 turnovers. This game was much closer than it needed to be thanks to Portland’s sloppiness on offense. The Blazers had all the momentum in the world after Carmelo Anthony’s ejection in the third, but they let the Thunder catch their breath with easy points off turnovers.

Russell Westbrook’s swagger couldn’t match Portland’s intensity. The reigning MVP is a force on the court, but tonight it was Jusuf Nurkic’s emphatic blocks and Damian Lillard’s maestro-like direction that ruled this contest. After being fouled on a midrange shot in the fourth, Nurkic turned to the Thunder bench to rub salt in the wound with a menacing stare. Westbrook still managed to get his 25 points, but he also surprisingly passed on a handful of open looks in the third. After missing three free throws in the final moments, Westbrook looked dejected.

The Blazers were able to exploit Steven Adams’ off night to the tune of 48 points in the paint. Lillard regularly targeted the Kiwi in pick-and-roll situations, forcing the Thunder into precarious situations throughout the contest. Thanks in large part to their success in the paint, Portland finished the game shooting 50 percent from the field—no small feat considering OKC normally holds opponents to 42 percent, good for second best in the NBA.

Individual Notes

  • From a pure point guard perspective, this was Lillard’s finest performance of the season. His seven assists in the first quarter set the tone for the entire game. If there were a hole in Oklahoma City’s defense, Lillard found it. His perfect 15-for-15 performance from the free throw line was just a cherry on top of his 13 assists.
  • CJ McCollum was the third option behind Nurkic and Lillard for long stretches of this contest, but he managed to maximize his effectiveness. McCollum converted six of his nine 3-point attempts, two of which came in the final two minutes of action.
  • Nurkic dominated the paint on both ends when it mattered the most. His two blocks were crucial in halting OKC’s outbursts, and his work as the roll-man helped keep the Thunder off balance on defense. After a slow start to the season, Nurkic has shot at least 50 percent from the field in every game in November.
  • Evan Turner’s final numbers aren’t pretty, but he had the cumbersome duty of switching on defense between Paul George and Russell Westbrook for most of the contest. Forget his 1-for-6 shooting night, focus on how he did corralling two of the deadliest scorers in the Western Conference.

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