The “Are The Portland Trail Blazers For Real?” home stand continued Wednesday night with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the reigning kings of the Northwest Division and one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, visiting the Moda Center.
And they would leave as so many other teams have this season, with a loss.
The Trail Blazers overcame a double-digit halftime deficit to defeat the Thunder 111-104 for their 16th victory of the season. Portland has now won 14 of their last 15 games and has lost just once at the Moda Center this season. Their 16-3 record is tied for the second-best record through 19 games in team history.
“Needless to say, it was a good win for us. Especially after we really didn’t have much going in the first half, we couldn’t quite come up with loose balls, offensive rebounds, hustle plays. It seemed like they had a lot of momentum in the first half. But I really liked the way we came out at the beginning of the third quarter, obviously. Offense and defense a lot of times go hand in hand. Our defense picked up and our offensive picked up. The crowd got into it and everybody contributed, so the second half was great.”
No Trail Blazer was greater than LaMarcus Aldridge, who lost out on Western Conference Player of the Month honors to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant earlier in the week. But while Durant won the award, Aldridge all-star won the night, scoring 16 points in the third quarter alone while leading Portland’s comeback from an 11-point halftime deficit.
“I don’t know if I have the words, to be honest,” said Stotts when asked about Aldridge’s performance. “Offensively, obviously he can score. But I liked his toughness, I liked his leadership, I liked his competitive fire. As much as he played very well, it was a lot of the intangibles that I really appreciated from him tonight.”
Aldridge would be Portland’s go-to whenever the offense started to stagnate, and was more than up to the task, finishing the game with a season-high 38 points on a career-high 17 made attempts while logging 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals. With his performance tonight, Aldridge passed Geoff Petrie for sixth on the Trail Blazers’ all-time points list and also passed Jerome Kersey for fourth all-time in made field goals.
“He’s our go-to guy, he’s our franchise player, he’s the face of the franchise,” said Nicolas Batum of Aldridge. “So when we need something — every team go to somebody — Miami goes to LeBron, Lakers go to Kobe, OKC goes to Durant. Us, we go to LA. That’s it.”
Aldridge’s performance in one of Portland’s biggest games of the season thus far inspired an “M-V-P” chant while the the eighth-year power forward, who has spent his entire career as a Trail Blazer, was shooting two clutch free throws with 24 seconds to play (free throws he made, by the way).
“Just surreal,” said Aldridge of the chants. “It was humbling to have that moment here. I’ve been here so long and I’ve had very few of those type of chants here, so that was fun. I thought that made the night just complete for me.”
While he was surely the hero of the night, two of the most important plays of the fourth quarter didn’t involved even involved Aldridge.
The first came with 8:33 left to play and the Trail Blazers leading 88-84. Oklahoma City’s Jeremy Lamb stole a Mo Williams pass and looked to have a wide-open layup in transition. But Dorell Wright hustled back on defense and got in Lamb’s way just enough to force the guard to blow the layup. Derek Fisher would get the rebound, but miss the putback as well. Wright was then able to corral the rebound and the ensuing possession resulted in a three-pointer for Damian Lillard that would put the Trail Blazers up 91-84.
“I thought Dorell Wright’s play … was a huge play for us,” said Stotts. “We’re up four and Lamb is going to dunk it and gain the momentum and that play, making him change it and Dame following it, that was a big momentum play for us. Those are the little things that win games like this.”
Oklahoma City was able to rally later in the quarter, cutting Portland’s lead to 105-104 with 37 seconds to play. Stotts drew up a play coming out of a timeout with the goal of having Batum dump the ball into Aldridge in the post. But Batum found himself wide open a the three-point line after catching the inbounds pass and, rather than finding Aldridge, decided to take the shot, which he hit to put Portland up four, essentially icing the game.
“The play was for LaMarcus,” said Batum. “I should come off pindown and give the ball inside. I just run baseline cut and I received the ball and I was like, I was surprised at first to be that wide open. So, shoot it.”
Outside of Aldridge, the Trail Blazers got yet another phenomenal performance from Robin Lopez, who scored all 12 of his points in the first half and used the second half to wreck havoc defensively, finishing with four blocks to go along with 10 rebounds for yet another double-double.
Batum finished with 14 points, size rebounds, three assists, two steal and a block while Damian Lillard also finished score 14 while handing out six assists.
Wesley Matthews finished with 13 points five rebounds and an assist. All five of Portland’s starters finished the night scoring in double figures.
The Thunder was lead by Kevin Durant with 33 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Russell Westbrook finished with 21 points and five assists and Serge Ibaka added a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort.
The home stand continues Friday with a game against the Jazz for the first of a Moda Center back-to-back. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.