By Michael Doutey
The Oklahoma City Thunder got off to the start they wanted in Game 2. OKC attacked the rim, they played tough defense and they kept Enes Kanter off the offensive glass. The result? OKC held a 10 point lead in the second quarter. A Russell Westbrook lay-in put the Thunder ahead 46-36 with five minutes left in the second quarter.
But over the remaining 29 minutes, OKC was outscored 78-48 and sent home with a 114-94 loss and down two games in this best of seven series. This loss doesn’t have the same feel as it did in Game One. This loss was demoralizing, capitalized by the sensational play of Portland’s Damian Lillard.
Now the Thunder are in a deep hole coming back to OKC, a hole many teams in history couldn’t climb out of. Here are Game 2’s five observations.
Dame and McCollum outperforming Westbrook and George
Sometimes it is this simple. But Portland’s two starts were much better than OKC’s two stars. The combination of Lillard and CJ McCollum have clearly outplayed Westbrook and Paul George in the first two games. Lillard has been sensational and was the best player on the floor in this one. He dropped 29 points while drilling four three’s on his eight attempts. He was even locked in on the defensive end, bothering Westbrook and swiping three steals. Then CJ McCollum got going, scoring 33 points on 12-22 shooting. Those two showed up Russ and PG. PG, who shot the ball better, scored 27 points on 11-20 shooting but was 2-7 from three. He also had five turnovers. Then there is Westbrook, who mustered 14 points on an abysmal 5-20 shooting and 1-6 from three. Westbrook also had six turnovers. PG was a negative-11 while on the floor. Russ was a negative-27, the worst on the team. Meanwhile, CJ was a plus-23 and Dame was a plus-27. If this trend continues, OKC will be swept. Plain and simple.
Paging Jerami Grant
Jerami Grant has been one of the biggest success stories in Thunder development history. He’s been sensational this season and has been a big reason why OKC has found success in the regular season. So, who is the imposter sporting number nine in Thunder blue? Grant is a combined 3-15 shooting in the first two games and 0-8 from three. Grant, who shot 39.2 percent from three this season and has been one of the best outside shooters for OKC, can’t land a shot right now. The Thunder need him to become the x-factor he’s been all season long. Grant played 30 minutes last night and was a negative-26 while on the floor. Markieff Morris was much better while he was on the floor in his limited minutes last night. The Thunder need Grant to return to form over the next two games in OKC. He’s just too important to the team to play as he has.
3rd Quarter Disatster
As we discussed earlier, the Thunder had a nice 10 point lead with five minutes to go in the first half. Then began the downfall of the Thunder. Portland finished the half on an 18-8 run, capped off by a clutch three-pointer at the buzzer by CJ McCollum. That swung the momentum completely in favor of the Trail Blazers. It undid everything the Thunder built over the entirety of the first half. Instead of OKC coming back out of the third quarter with the same focus as they did in the first half, they came out and were a complete mess. The Thunder committed eight turnovers in the frame, led by Westbrook with four and PG was pick-pocketed two possessions in a row. Then the Thunder’s defense was awful, especially on the perimeter. The Thunder were scrambling around trying to get out to open shooters as if they’ve never faced a team that moved the ball as well as Portland can. It was a complete 180 from the first quarter. Portland shot 6-11 from three that quarter and outscored OKC 37-21, effectively putting away the Thunder for the second consecutive game.
Poor Three-Point Shooting Continues
This has been well documented. We all know how awful OKC shot the ball in Game 1 from three (5-33). We all said that OKC could never shoot that poorly again. Well, they did it again. OKC shot 5-28 from three in Game 2, which combined for 10-61 over the first two games. This is historically awful. Lots of these shots were wide open looks. Some were really forced, especially by PG and Westbrook. I don’t have to tell you that this has to be better, but it highlights the bigger issue. Getting into this now doesn’t help with what is going on with this series. These issues cannot be solved in practice or meeting. This is an underlying issue that has been growing for years. OKC has to hit shots. They have to hit open shots. Otherwise, this is a sweep.
Is it too Late for Turnaround?
After the loss, Westbrook took “full responsibility,” for the loss, claiming his play was “unacceptable.” I always respect people when they own their mistakes. Russ did so last night like he’s done in the past. So, I do respect this. However, I have to ask, why now? Why not when OKC was in the midst of a 4-10 slide in February and early March. There was patience. But there wasn’t a sense of urgency to get things fixed. Even when OKC closed the season with five straight wins, no one claimed that OKC had returned to their sensational play from before the All-Star break. But with OKC’s back against the wall, now is the time for Russ to be reflective about his play and the teams play. To me, it is too late. OKC is down two games. They have to win four of the next five games. Statistically speaking, this is very unlikely. Applying the eye test to how OKC has been playing, OKC completing the comeback to win the series would be nothing short of a miracle. If this attitude of fixing the play of the team was applied a couple of months ago, possibly the Thunder could have avoided the mess they are in right now.
The series now turns to OKC for the next two games where the Thunder hope to take the next two games to even the series. Game 3 is Friday night at 8:30 p.m. inside the Peake.