In terms of just the box score, the wasn’t much separation between the Thunder and Blazers Tuesday night. The Blazers shot 44.7 percent from the field, Oklahoma City 43.9. Portland made 34 baskets, OKC 36. Portland six 3-pointers, OKC five. Turnovers, nine for the Blazers, 10 for the Thunder.
And yet the Thunder lost 103-93. That difference came directly from one place: the free throw line. Portland, 29-36; OKC 16-21.
There’s no way around it. The Blazers got the extra points from the charity stripe and the Thunder struggled, finding empty possessions in the second half, scoring just 40 points the last 24 minutes.
The good 5-0 start hid some deficiencies within the team that are now fairly glaring. KD can’t always bail out the Thunder offense. The Thunder need Westbrook’s scoring. The defense hasn’t been all that great. The transition game comes and goes. It’s tough to beat good teams on back-to-back nights and on these two, the Mavericks and Blazers beat OKC down in the second half. While both of those teams had answers in their halfcourt set, the Thunder had to hope Durant could explode and start dropping big shots. The Thunder aren’t winning many games where KD goes 8-26 and only shoots four free throws. Really, I have a hard time believing they’d win any. His scoring is simply too important not to get.
The Thunder didn’t have an answer for LaMarcus Aldridge (30 points on 10-19 shooting), both inside and out. Serge Ibaka picked up two quick fouls defending him and played only 14 minutes. Perk saw a lot of time on him but had trouble staying in front of him. Nick Collison is too short to challenge his shot adequately. It was just an all-around tough matchup.
It’s impossible though to capture this game without talking about the officiating some. It’s not THE reason the Thunder lost by any stretch — the Blazers straight outplayed OKC in the second half — but it certainly played a part. OKC shot 15 fewer free throws than the Blazers and KD, normally a guy seeing 8-10 free throws a game, couldn’t get a call, taking just four freebies. I’m not necessarily saying the officiating was slanted against the Thunder, but the whistle certainly didn’t lean OKC’s way. Scott Brooks got hit with a technical and Durant was openly frustrated after a he was bumped hard on a drive but Portland got a jump ball called on it instead. It was a bit striking to me to watch Durant attack, draw some contact and come up empty-handed. It very well may not have been a foul, but at least half the time, he’s getting a whistle in that situation, i.e. the superstar treatment.
The Thunder’s offense works on a couple principles: Kevin Durant being awesome, Westbrook attacking and scoring and the team getting to the line and making their shots. Two of those three things didn’t happen in this one. KD struggled shooting and the Thunder just couldn’t get to the line with any regularity.
And if you want to say, “Well the Thunder weren’t attacking and the Blazers were!” well, the shot chart would disagree with you. The Thunder attacked and tried to score in the paint, but the Blazers either collapsed and defended really well, or got away with a couple of fouls. It happens. It’s the NBA.
Portland on the other hand was able to rely on high quality shots on the inside between Gerald Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge. While the Thunder had to scramble for good looks, the Blazers got them consistently in the second half.
- James Harden started (Thabo was out with a sore foot that had flu-like symptoms or something) and played really well for the most part. He had 23 points on 7-13 shooting and carried OKC offensively for a good portion of the game. He started the game though 6-7 for 20 points and made just one of his last six. He had six assists, three steals and four rebounds to go with it and overall was great. He just didn’t finish well, but I thought everything looked really good with him starting.
- I was curious as to how Scott Brooks would handle the rotation with Harden starting. KD played the entire first while Westbrook and Harden sat the final four minutes. Harden started the second quarter with the traditional second unit. It looked like for the most part Brooks wanted to keep one of those three on the floor at all times, but did go with a group without any for a short stint in the third quarter. I asked Brooks if he paid a little closer attention to how the rotation worked and didn’t with Harden starting and he totally didn’t answer my question, instead just talking about how Thabo is a good defender and has value to the team.
- KD just struggled to make shots. Gerald Wallace is one of the best defenders for Durant, using his body and hands as well as anyone. At the same time KD, missed quite a few solid looks we’re used to seeing him make.
- Harden started the game 3-4 from 3, but missed his last three from deep.
- Daequan Cook played, but wore Amare-style rec specs. He couldn’t decide whether or not to keep them on as he would throw them to the bench and then put them back on periodically. He wore them to see if they helped with his flu-like symptoms that included some headaches. He didn’t shoot the ball well, going just 1-5 from the floor and 0-3 from 3.
- Brooks said he though Westbrook had maybe his best game this season and I agree.Westbrook had three assists in the first five minutes of the game and finished with eight to three turnovers. And he probably would’ve had 11 or 12 if KD could’ve knocked down a few of the looks Russ set him up for. Westbrook scored 22, but on 8-18 shooting but most of his shots were fairly quality.
- Quality Scott Brooks quote before the game: “We didn’t expect to go undefeated. That would’ve been a really cool season if that had happened.” Also not going 65-1 now.
- KD’s free throw shooting is becoming a thing. One, because he’s not taking very many, but he missed two more in this one. I don’t know what the deal is, but KD is far too good a shooter to hit under 80 percent from the line.
- Harden’s fullcourt fastbreak passing is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
- At times, Westbrook was a tad aggressive on the ball gambling for steals. Ray Felton has a strong handle and once he broke through Westbrook’s swiping, forced the Thunder defense to collapse and rotate. Westbrook’s defensive energy was appreciated, but it’s got to be channeled in the right places at the right times.
- Perk and Aldridge got into it pretty good late in the fourth. Perk had been on Aldridge, trying to get under his skin for a good part of the second half and finally broke him. He pulled the classic Perk move of just standing in one place while Aldridge tried to go around him. Perk didn’t really start it, but he kind of did.
- The halftime show was that dude that dresses up like the Village People and dances. My question: How does he not get completely sick of doing the same thing every night? Don’t you think every now and then he asks himself, “Why do I have to be the Indian? Why can’t I be the police officer this time?”
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @DustRagu: “Papa Perkins picked a pack of Portland…”
Next up: Two days off before OKC starts its back-to-back-to-back off with the Rockets at home.