By Michael Doutey
The Oklahoma City Thunder fall in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals 104-99 to the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland landed a haymaker early in the first half, but OKC fought back. OKC got within one point but could never get over the hump.
The Thunder struggled to shoot well from beyond the arc, yet Paul George hit a three with 2:44 left in the contest, cutting Portland’s lead to one. To be honest, I thought OKC was going to steal Game 1. But on the next possession, Damian Lillard drained a 30-foot three pointer. OKC could never recover and went on to lose. Here are tonight’s five observations.
This one is obvious. The Thunder stunk shooting, especially from three. The Thunder overall shot 39.8 percent from the floor and an abysmal 5-33 from three. Meanwhile, Portland shot very well from three. The Blazers shot a hot 11-25 from beyond the arc. That comes down to the nuts and bolts of this game. If the Thunder made a couple more shots, most of which were wide open, the Thunder win this game. Plain and simple. We know PG’s shoulder is an issue. Plus, when he misses a game it takes him a while for him to find his rhythm again. PG scored 26 points, but it came on 24 shots. He also shot a miserable 4-15 from three. Some were not good shots, but most were. Westbrook was 0-4, Jerami Grant 0-3 and Dennis Schröder was 0-7. The Thunder shot possibly the worst of the season and still could have won. You’d like to think OKC will shoot better in Game 2.
Can Play Kanter
Enes Kanter was a factor in this one. His stat line maybe says he was more of a factor than he actually was. Still, he was big in the winning cause for the Trail Blazers. Enes posted a 20 point, 11 rebound game. He also snagged seven offensive rebounds. His second chance points were the main crux to the Thunder’s defense. That was his real only impact on the game. Defensively he was not present. Westbrook and Adams were able to knife their way past Kanter with relative ease. Still, OKC can’t afford to let Portland score 14 second-chance points. Even with Kanter’s big game, OKC won the battle of the boards 49-48. OKC had more offensive rebounds 18-13. But OKC has to do a better job of limiting Kanter’s effectiveness. If OKC can limit his second chance opportunities while forcing one shot offensive trips to Portland, OKC will be in great shape.
There was a lot of talk about the Lillard vs. Russell Westbrook factor in this series. Would Westbrook try to show up Lillard, a duo who historically loves to go at each other? It’s a very fair criticism. But with the game in the balance and the Thunder as close as they’d been all second half, Westbrook sagged off Lillard, almost daring him to shoot a deep three, which he did. Down one with the Thunder fighting back on a horrible shooting night, Westbrook gives one of the NBA’s best clutch outside shooters three feet of room. It was as if Westbrook was playing defense in January and not in a seven-game playoff series. Otherwise, Westbrook played a very nice game. His shot selection was under control. He attacked well. He passed well. But that moment that he left Lillard open is the difference between winning and losing in the NBA playoffs. IF OKC forced a miss there, then the Thunder probably goes down and score again. In crunch time OKC used the pick-and-roll and exposed Kanter. Instead, Lillard drills the long, open three and take Game 2.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) April 14, 2019
OKC Did Find Success
Yes, the Thunder lost by five. But the Thunder won many of the battles it takes to win a playoff game. OKC outrebounded Portland by one. OKC also won the edge on the offensive glass by five. The Thunder forced three more turnovers than Portland, won second-chance points by seven, outscored Portland by 12 in points-in-the-paint. Heck, OKC was even better at the free throw line. OKC went 20-23 from the line while Portland was 21-27. OKC also had 16 fast break points while Portland only had nine. The Thunder did enough to win this game, other than shoot well. That should make Thunder fans feel well going into Game Two.
Looking to Game 2
I tweeted this after the game, but I will expound on it further here. The Thunder aren’t in a bad spot losing this game. I’m not saying losing is good. What I am saying is that in a seven-game series losing by five on the road when the opposition played as well as they can while OKC struggled to shoot efficiently isn’t the end of the world. Harken back to last season when OKC shot their way past Utah in Game One. Utah came back in Game Two with the same gameplan as they did in the first game and they won, taking control of home-court and the series. OKC can do the same if they clean up in a few areas and shoot a little better. Don’t overreact to the first game. OKC took a punch on the chin and nearly came back and won. Portland threw their best punch. Now OKC has the opportunity to make some slight adjustments and possibly take Game Two.
Game Two is Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. inside the Moda Center.