By Michael Doutey
This game couldn’t have ended any other way. Damian Lillard owned this series from start to finish, and no one was going to get in his way. That was clear from Lillard’s 50 point performance last night in Game 5. The Thunder found a way to crawl back from a nine-point third quarter deficit and held a 15-point fourth quarter lead. But the Thunder found a way to blow this lead. So when Lillard took that 37-foot three-pointer Thunder fans had to know that was going to drop. It was a perfect ending to a miserably frustrating season. Lillard’s bomb clinched the series four-games-to-one as Portland took Game 5 118-115.
Lack of Execution Down the Stretch
With 7:12 left in the game Jerami Grant made a layup to extend their lead to 107-92. From that point on Portland outscored OKC 26-8. The Thunder’s execution during the stretch run was a disaster. The Thunder put the ball in both Westbrook and George’s hands and both made critical errors. PG missed three of four free throw attempts down the stretch while also committing a huge turnover that led to CJ McCollum tying the game at 113. Westbrook wasn’t much better. He had two turnovers and missed three shots that he used to make with regularity. Now, both Russ and PG did make a few big shots down the stretch. Westbrook made a big three and PG hit a couple of shots, one that gave the Thunder a 115-113 lead with 39.4 seconds left. But it wasn’t enough. The Thunder have struggled all at executing down the stretch especially in the halfcourt. That issue was never fixed and it cost the Thunder in the biggest moment of the season. The Thunder haven’t done the little things well all season long. As a collective, they don’t make those plays a priority. But in tight playoff games, those plays are paramount. The Thunder didn’t execute the little things and it cost them an opportunity to extend the series. This is something that the Thunder must change. Championship caliber teams make winning plays in winning time. Until this team is humbled and addresses these issues, this is the ceiling for this organization.
The Thunder played as well as they have all season in Game 5. Seriously, for 46 minutes the Thunder were great. But those other two got them beat. That and the superhero showcase from Dame Lillard. If it were not for Lillard’s Herculian like effort, the Thunder would have won this game going away. Well, the probably should have anyways since they had a 15-point lead with just over seven minutes left to play. But I digress. If Lillard was just a little mortal last night, we’d be talking about Game 6 in OKC. But what Lillard did last night was the best performance I’ve ever seen. He carried his team all night. It wasn’t like the Thunder were defending him poorly. The difficulty of the shots he made was incredible. He hit multiple deep threes, made acrobatic finishes at the rim over defenders, and flipped runners over outstretched shot blockers that touched nothing but the bottom of the cup. He was not going to let his team lose last night. No matter how good OKC played last night, Dame found a way to be better. Even though this was just a first-round series, his performance last night was the single best performance I’ve ever witnessed.
Thunder Shot Well
If you had told me that the Thunder would have shot 54.7 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc, I would have assumed the Thunder would have won the game. If you would have then told me that OKC shot nearly eight percent higher than Portland and seven percent higher from three, then I would have guessed the Thunder would have blown out Portland. This was the best the Thunder had played all series, even better than Game 3 when they won. But the final half of the fourth quarter was not good enough and Portland stole a game, sending OKC into an incredibly important offseason.
Thunder didn’t take Advantage that Role Players Traveled
The Thunder role players stepped up in Game 5. It is another reason losing this game stings for OKC. Jerami Grant bounced back by scoring 16 points on 7-8 shooting and 2-2 from three. He also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots. Dennis Schröder was great on offense, scoring 17 points on 7-10 shooting and 2-3 from three. He added three assists. His defense was up and down. He gave effort and tried to make things tough on Dame, but it didn’t really effect Lillard. Nothing really did. Even Steven Adams had decent numbers, even though he is being ignored. He scored 10 points on 5-8 shooting and brought down four rebounds. OKC had guys step up on the road. It is a shame the Thunder couldn’t have capitalized on that.
Goodbye to this Frustrating Season
It is a frustrating way for the season to end. But it was fitting. It’s been a disappointing season ever since the All-Star Break. Once the schedule turned tough the Thunder never looked the same. Some of that was because of the injury to Paul George. You can’t deny that he was mightily impacted by that. OKC also planned on having Andre Roberson back before Christmas. But he had two major setbacks and couldn’t get healthy enough to return. Do you think his defensive presence on Lillard could have helped the Thunder in this series? Absolutely. But the Thunder still had opportunities to make things work well for them. They had a great matchup in Portland in the postseason. But they didn’t take advantage. While I think the Thunder’s roster is more talented than Portland, it became easy to see that Portland was a better team than OKC. You could see the identity of Portland on offense. They had a purpose and directions for their moves. It was a struggle to find that for the Thunder. The Trail Blazers played cohesively as a unit while the Thunder played their patented ISO basketball. The better team won and that should make this series loss keep the Thunder players, coaches and management awake at night all offseason. Because the team with more talent is gone fishing.
The 2018-2019 season has come to a disappointing end. However, an important and interesting offseason is just beginning. Over the offseason, I’ll take a look at the team and possible moves the Thunder can make to improve the roster. But until then, enjoy the Thunderless playoffs.