Westbrook runs wild in 109-95 Thunder victory over Blazers
To put it clearly on what this game was simply about, it was the more dominant team in the division against a lesser and weaker team, the Oklahoma City Thunder (38-12) who sit fairly comfortably atop the Western Conference standings faced their Northwest division rival on the road as the Portland Trail Blazers (23-27) were seeking their first back-to-back wins since all the way in January. Portland was without point guard Raymond Felton for the night has he was out with a family emergency, leaving Coach Canales to place rookie Nolan Smith in the starting lineup to go against All-Star Russell Westbrook. How did that turn out? Not so good, Smith and the rest of the Blazers were left trying to climb out a giant hole throughout the entire game, falling behind as many as 25 points and letting the Thunder score 65 points at halftime which was the most scored by an opponent this season by Portland. J.J. Hickson would lead the charge in the third quarter and cut the lead to single digits but Westbrook and Kevin Durant were simply too hot for the Blazers to handle as the guys in white would lose 109-95 at the Rose Garden.
As with every time the Thunder roll into the Rose Garden, they bring out the supporters of the Seattle SuperSonics, and it was quite surprising to see and hear a lot of Thunder fans as they were just as loud as the home crowd was. Without some point guard experience from Felton, Westbrook’s eyes lit up as the rookie Smith was getting schooled by the master of his craft, cutting between guards, picking apart the Portland defense, running circles and poking pockets. Durant simply stood around the outside and darted for the other side of the court once Westbrook got a few steals and was open for the slam dunk. Without the pressure of Gerald Wallace, he was free to roam where he please. LaMarcus Aldridge who has had some success against the Thunder lately was not much of a factor in the beginning, he only contributed four points in the first 12 minutes of play as Portland fell behind 32-18 after one-quarter. Smith was trying to keep his team afloat and show that he was worthy of the starting position but too many times tried to drive inside where guys like Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins waited to swat him away and turn the ball over. Then he decided to pass up giving the ball to Aldridge or even Nicolas Batum and attempted some jumpers, all were clunkers.
When it came time for the benches to play, Portland fared well for a while. The Thunder still had some firepower in (soon to be Sixth Man of the Year) James Harden and former Lakers point guard Derek Fisher (who was met with boos when he first entered). Portland was able to throw Luke Babbitt who hit his first two three-pointers and J.J. Hickson who constantly drove inside the paint and got to the foul line, he even had a sweet alley oop dunk dished by Flynn and the Rose Garden crowd liked what they saw from Hickson. However it was frustrating to watch Jamal Crawford continue to struggle offensively as he started 0-4 from the field, Kurt Thomas was called on some fouls and even though Joel Przybilla started the game, he had a tough night as he was rim checked twice in one sequence. Oklahoma City ran with a 65-47 lead at the half and scored another 33 points in the second as the kids in Durant jerseys were dancing in their seats.
Portland did not give up quite easily and after the break, Wesley Matthews, Aldridge and Hickson led a 17-2 Blazer run that was capped by a fading jump shot by Aldridge over Perkins to cut the lead down to eight. Perkins was then called for an offensive foul and the momentum was going into the Blazers’ hands, but the defense couldn’t contain Westbrook as he and Durant shut the party down and quickly. Matthews managed to hit a three to cut the lead to five and that would be as close as the Blazers would get. The fourth quarter was lost as Westbrook was not even looking to pass the ball anymore, running down the court on four straight possessions, stopping 15 feet from the basket and sinking a wide open jumper. Durant and Harden would drill threes and the game was over as many expected the outcome to be.
Russell Westbrook was the badass and was the most dominant player on the court that night: game high 32 Pts, 8 Ast, 3 Stl on 16-26 shooting, his buddy Kevin Durant followed closely with 25 Pts, 6 Reb, 2 Stl on 10-14 shooting and was contempt letting Westbrook run the show. James Harden came out with 21 Pts off the bench along with Serge Ibaka grabbing 12 Reb and swatting 6 Blks. Oklahoma City as a team never dipped below 57% from the field as they shot 68% in the first half, they got 50 points in the paint, 14 fast break points and 43 boards compared to Portland’s 30.
The bright spot for Portland was the play of J.J. Hickson who now might be included in talks of placing him somewhere in the starting lineup, he’s like Aldridge but rather than settle for the jumper he drives inside the paint and either scores or was sent to the foul line: 21 Pts, 4 Reb, 3 Stl off the bench on 9-10 shooting. LaMarcus Aldridge contributed a solid 20 Pts, 8 Reb, 3 Ast on 9-16 shooting, Wesley Matthews for 17 Pts, 4 Stl and 2-4 from three. Nicolas Batum had a tough time following Durant around and scored 13 Pts but on 4-11 shooting, Jonny Flynn played more minutes at the point for 10 Pts, 3 Reb, 5 Ast and only one turnover. Nolan Smith in his first NBA start played 26 minutes but could only muster 3 Pts, 2 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl on 1-9 shooting. The Blazers shoot just 43% for the night, 7-16 from three and lose to OKC in most statistical categories.
This was kind of expected as the Thunder are quite simply the better team and we got schooled. Head to Chuck’s Thunder Obsessed for reactions about the Thunder win. Portland will get another day off and continue their home stand against the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday.
photo courtesy of oregonlive.com/blazers