By Michael Doutey
The Portland Trail Blazers take a commanding three games to one lead in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. Portland was able to defend their home court in the first two games. The Thunder were not able to do that, falling in Game 4. Now Portland is one win away from sending OKC fishing in another disappointing 1st round exit. Game 5 will be back in Portland on Tuesday night. Here are tonight’s five observations.
Where it All Went Wrong
The Thunder built their largest lead of the night after a Westbrook three with 2:12 left in the 1st half. OKC built their lead up to seven, leading Terry Stotts to call a timeout. It felt like Game 3. After an ugly first half, OKC took control and had a 10 point lead going into halftime. The Thunder had an opportunity to close the quarter strong and set themselves up for a successful second half. Instead, Portland went on an 11-0 run and held a four-point lead over OKC at the half. The Thunder had no response for that and never really were able to keep themselves in the game in the second half. The big deal was that Damian Lillard was struggling to score in the first half. He made two shots in the first half and scored just seven points yet Portland had the lead at the break. To me, that spelled trouble for OKC. The Trail Blazers, led by Lillard, extended their lead in the third quarter and never looked back. OKC couldn’t get back into the game, and now the Thunder find themselves one game away from elimination.
The Ugly Truth of Westbrook’s Performance
At the beginning of the game, Westbrook got off to a hot shooting start. He hit a three and a couple midrange jumpers. As he hit a couple of shots, I sat back wondering if that would lull Westbrook into a false sense of security with his jump shot. Westbrook ended the opening quarter with eight points on 3-6 shooting and made one of his two 3s. The rest of the game he was 2-15 and scored six points. He scored just one point in the second half while shooting an abysmal 0-7 from the field and 0-4 from three. Westbrook didn’t score until the 1:55 mark of the fourth quarter. He converted the second of two free throw attempts. Westbrook is one of the highest paid players in the NBA and for the second consecutive playoff matchup, his counterpart at point guard outplayed him for the series. Lillard had a tough shooting first half. He was just 2-8 shooting for seven points. But Lillard still found ways to positively affect his team. Portland carried a four-point lead at the half and he was a plus-11 while in the game. Lillard and the Blazers could smell blood in the water. They came out of the break and put the Thunder away, extending their lead in the second half to as many as 19 points. Westbrook couldn’t figure out his shot or how to attack the paint sagging defense Portland deployed. But the most egregious stat of the night shows that Westbrook took just three shots in the paint. Westbrook had seven three-point attempts and 11 non-paint two-point attempts. When asked about his poor shooting performance, he nonchalantly answering by saying that poor shooting nights happen, as if this were a game in the regular season and not a pivotal playoff game.
Portlands Role Players Step Up
The role players traveled for Game 4 for Portland. The Thunder’s didn’t really show up. Terrance Ferguson and Jerami Grant combined for 14 points while Al-Farouq Aminu scored 19 points on 7-16 shooting and 4-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Mo Harkless scored 15 points on 5-13 shooting and they both played solid defense. While the Thunder and Blazers each made 15 three’s, one team had much better production than the other. Portland made sure to capitalize on their role players stepping up.
What’s Up with Steven Adams
Where was Steven Adams? I am not even talking about in the fourth quarter when OKC went small. I’m talking about the whole game. Adams had just six shot attempts for the second consecutive game. Portland is packing the paint so much that it is affecting both Westbrook and Adams. But this has been a recurring theme since the Thunder’s season took a nosedive after the All-Star Break. Adams hasn’t been a part of the game plan and it hurts this team. He doesn’t need to score on post-ups, but OKC is wasting him away. It might be because teams know Westbrook can find him when he drives the lane, so if you can turn Westbrook into a jump shooter by clogging the lane, teams are not only hurting Westbrook but also Adams. Teams are killing two birds with one stone. The ripple effect of Westbrook’s shooting woes has gone a long way.
Dame & CJ the Better Duo
Through four games it has been easy to tell who the better team is. Portland is simply better than Oklahoma City right now, even with a man down in Jusuf Nurkic. But Lillard and McCollum is the better duo than Westbrook and PG. Now, PG is injured. There is something seriously wrong with his shoulder and it should be admired that he’s fighting through the pain. But the combination of Lillard and McCollum is just too much for OKC. They’ve had no answer through four games. They are why this series is going to wind up being a gentlemen’s sweep. Portland fits the new age of three-pointers and modern-day basketball analytics. They are what the Thunder envision being. But as we can see, OKC is far from that style of basketball.
Game 5 is set for a 9:30 p.m. tip inside the Moda Center. The Thunder are fighting for their life in this game. It is win-or-go-home time for the Thunder’s season.