(Photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — Portland had a specific game plan when they came into Oklahoma City. Damian Lillard wanted his Blazers to match the physical prowess and intensity of the Thunder and their best player, Russell Westbrook.
However, when the Thunder are playing at home in front of a raucous crowd, that can be a difficult task to perform. The Trail Blazers learned that Sunday during a 105-99 defeat to at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“They won the effort battle,” Lillard said. “Not that our effort wasn’t there. They got a lot of offensive rebounds. If the ball was loose, they got to them before we did. They out-aggressived us down the stretch. It felt like they wanted it a little bit more than we did. In that situation, we have to fight harder. We have to want it more.”
Westbrook scored 19 of his game-high 42 points in the fourth quarter to lead Oklahoma City. He hit 16 of 34 shots from the field to go along with eight assists and four rebounds. It was the eighth time this season in which he reached 40 points, tying him with Houston’s James Harden for the NBA lead.
“He doesn’t stop,” Lillard said of Westbrook. “As a group, we love the challenge. You know he’s not going to stop. He is a hell of a player having an MVP season.”
Victor Oladipo added 24 points and 13 boards for the Thunder (30-22). Andre Robertson may have had his best game of the season with 11 rebounds and 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
Oklahoma City center Steven Adams finished with 13 rebounds, nine of them on the offensive end. The Thunder outrebounded the Blazers 56-44.
Lillard led Portland with 29 points on 9-of-22 shooting. CJ McCollum posted 19 points and eight rebounds for the Trail Blazers (22-30).
With the game tied at 85-85, Westbrook knocked down back-to-back jumpers in transition to give Oklahoma City an 89-85 lead with 5:37 left.
The Blazers wasted an offensive possession, and Westbrook made them pay with another midrange jumper. After Oladipo made a pair of free throws, the Thunder lead was up by eight points.
Mason Plumlee and Al-Farouq Aminu broke the scoring drought and closed the gap to 94-90. McCullum drained a 3-pointer, and Oklahoma City’s lead was only three points.
After Portland got a defensive stop, it had a chance to close to at least within one. However, the Blazers turned the ball over, leading to a pair of Oladipo free throws.
Lillard was forced into an off-balance shot, which he missed. The Thunder got the rebound, and Westbrook took over. With Aminu guarding him, he faked right at the top of the key and came back left. Aminu got turned around and headed toward the basket. Westbrook was still standing behind the arc and calmly buried a 3-pointer to push the Thunder lead to seven.
As he went back upcourt, he was stomping on the court yelling, “Where are you going?”
That pretty much closed out the game. The Thunder made their free throws to put the contest to bed.
“They outplayed us in the fourth quarter,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “The bottom line, it came down to that. We didn’t do the things in the fourth quarter that you have to do. Westbrook played great.”
The Thunder started the afternoon as if they were in a hurry to get their Super Bowl parties. Adams had three offensive rebounds in the first two minutes of action.
“It was a huge tone that we came to play,” Westbrook said. “It shows that we are fighting. We want to be the team that hits first. Regardless of how many misses, but we played hard all game.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com