By Michael Doutey
The Oklahoma City Thunder are on the board taking Game 3 120-108 in a hotly contested game. The Thunder took control of the game going into halftime, taking a 10 point lead into the break. OKC extended that lead to 16 before Damian Lillard exploded for 25 points in the third quarter. Early in the fourth quarter CJ McCollum tied the game up 89 all. From that point on OKC outscored Portland 31-19 and the Thunder took Game 3.
The Thunder are still in a 2-1 deficit, making Game 4 huge on Sunday. Here are tonight’s five observations.
Westbrook’s Big Night
We got the full Russell Westbrook experience in Game 3. At the half, he wasn’t playing well. He looked like he was forcing passes into traffic. He was off on his midrange jumper. He didn’t look comfortable. As Dame was going bonkers in the 3rd, I was in awe thinking about how badly Dame was outplaying Russ in this series. Dame just dropped 25 in the third, most of which happened after Westbrook demonstratively rocked the baby on an and-one over Dame. However, in the biggest moment of tonight’s game, which might’ve been the biggest moment of the season, Westbrook put on his cape and saved the day. Westbrook scored 14 points in the fourth quarter on 5-6 shooting. He made both his 3s, had two assists and no turnovers. He was a plus-eight in his nine minutes and 10 seconds in the fourth quarter. It was just so Russ. We’ve seen him do that so many times. He fumbles around and plays like junk just long enough for you to forget that he is one of the worlds best players. Tonight we got to see all his weirdness, his troubling play, and his late game heroics, just in the nick of time.
Big Bounce Back From Grant
Would you look at Jerami Grant? After struggling mightily in Game 1 and Game 2, it didn’t take long for him to burst onto the scene in Game 3. The first make of the game was a corner three from Grant, which touched nothing but the bottom of the net. Grant stepped up time after time and made big shots. He answered with a big three in the third quarter as the Trail Blazer’s were making a run to cut deep into the Thunder’s lead. In the fourth quarter, he was nails. After Portland tied the game in the fourth, Grant hit a three, blocked a Lillard shot at the rim and had a driving layin that gave the Thunder a seven-point lead. That sequence forced a Terry Stotts timeout. That swung back the momentum in favor of OKC and the Thunder never looked back. Grant scored 18 points on 6-7 shooting and 4-5 from three. He also had two blocks. He’s the x-factor with this team and was a catalyst in tonight’s win.
PG Grinds out Big Game
It wasn’t a great stat line night for Paul George. His 3-16 shooting and 2-7 from three performance suggest that he was awful tonight. But nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, PG didn’t shoot the ball well from the field. But he didn’t allow that to affect his game. He stayed aggressive and got to the foul line 17 times and converted 14 of them. He had six assists as well. However, what made PG so good tonight was his defense. Terrance Ferguson had the CJ McCollum draw in the first two games. It was a logical move considering how well Ferguson defended McCollum in the regular season. But Ferguson really struggled in the first couple games and Billy Donovan decided to make the switch. PG opened the game on CJ and PG was excellent. But after Dame caught fire, PG switched onto Lillard in the fourth. The result? PG was a lockdown defender. Now, it wasn’t just PG that shut down Lillard, who scored just three points in the fourth. It was a team effort to get the ball out of his hands. PG took that challenge and it worked really well for OKC. PG finished with 22 points, six assists, and six rebounds.
3s Fall in Game 3
This is the most obvious of my observations. But the Thunder are MUCH better when they make their 3s. OKC was 10-61 from beyond the arc in Games 1 and 2. Tonight, OKC shot 15-29, good for 51.7 percent. That is incredible shooting and something that will be hard for OKC to replicate. Grant was 4-5 from three. Ferguson was 3-4. Westbrook finished 4-6. Dennis Schröder cooly hit 2-3 and scored 17 points off the bench. The only bad shooting night was PG, who went 2-7 from three. But sometimes basketball is this simple. When you make your shots you win. OKC did that tonight and the Thunder are now on the board in the playoffs.
Game 4 is on Easter Sunday, which is typically a great holiday to spend time with family. It’s a nice, easy day spent at church, having lunch and watching the kids have an Easter Egg hunt. Easter is a peaceful day. So, if you are into the Holiday you better get all your peace in before Sunday’s tip for Game 4, because that game is going to be a blood bath. Tempers are really beginning to flare. You can tell these two teams don’t like each other. Westbrook and Lillard have a history. Tonight we saw that grow. Westbrook was as animated as I’ve ever seen him after a blocked shot on Lillard and then he rocked the baby on Dame moments later after Lillard fouled Westbrook on a made post. Lillard then went on a scoring spree in the 3rd quarter. Westbrook nailed a three late in the game, punctuating a Game 3 win for OKC. Westbrook pointed directly at Lillard and then banged on his chest while shouting at Lillard. After Stotts called his starters off the floor and admitting defeat, Westbrook wasn’t finished. He continued his chirping by the Portland bench, earning himself a technical foul. Lillard didn’t back down, responding to whatever Westbrook had to say. Then to highlight the animosity, PG has a showtime dunk as the game had expired. Lillard and the rest of Portlands bench had words to say once the game was over, staying on the court talking to the OKC bench. You could see PG and Dame exchanging words during the game. Schröder mocked Lillard’s patented celebration, pointing to his wrist once the Thunder had to game in the bag. The bad blood has been building and in Game 4 we might see it burst.
Game 4 is set to tip at 8:30 p.m. inside Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday night. This is a pivotal game in the series. Portland wants to take a commanding 3-1 lead while OKC wants to go back to Portland with the series tied at two games apiece.