The Portland Trail Blazers fell to 36-16 on the season Tuesday night with a 98-95 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Moda Center. It was the fourth and final regular season meeting between the two teams, with the clubs splitting the series 2-2.
“It was a good game, both teams – kind of reminiscent of the Indiana game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a lot of good things, stayed in the game, felt like we had a chance to win the game – to be honest, we didn’t shoot the ball very well in the second half. We had a lot of good looks, shots that we normally make, shots that I thought we at least shoot a better percentage. But I liked the way we battled. I liked the way we competed.”
The Trail Blazers had an opportunity to take the lead with two seconds to play after both teams traded a series of turnovers and missed shots. But LaMarcus Aldridge’s 20-foot jumper bounced off the rim and the Thunder corralled the rebound in the waning seconds of the game to all but seal the victory on Portland’s home court.
“We ran a pick and roll,” said Stotts of Portland’s penultimate offensive possession. “If they committed two to Damian, I thought LA would be open. We had shooters on the court and whether LA shoots a jump shot or drives or passes, I can certainly live with the shot. He’s made a living making that shot.”
Portland had a look at a desperation three with 0.6 second to play which would have sent the game to overtime, but Damian Lillard’s attempt missed the mark as time expired.
“We got good looks,” said Lillard, “we didn’t make shots. They knocked down some threes and got in the paint a few times. We just didn’t make shots that we usually make.”
The Trail Blazers got off to a hot start in their first action since finishing up a four-game road trip with a win in Minneapolis Saturday night. Portland took a 13-point lead with 4:03 to play in the first quarter after Thunder coach Scott Brooks was assessed a technical foul for arguing with the officials. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant would be called for a technical less than 30 seconds later, with Lillard once again hitting the corresponding free throw to put the Trail Blazers up 20-8.
But it wouldn’t be all good news early for Portland, as backup center Joel Freeland left the game in the first quarter with a right knee injury. Freeland is expected to have an MRI and his status for Wednesday night’s game against the Clippers in unknown.
With Freeland out, Oklahoma City would finish the quarter on an 11-5 to pull to within 25-19, with 12 of those points coming courtesy of Durant, going into the second quarter.
Rookie C.J. McCollum would have arguably the best stint of his young career in the second quarter. The 6-4 rookie out of Lehigh, who has seen his minutes and role increase with Mo Williams (personal reason) unavailable, scored 10 points in the quarter on three of three shooting from the field and two of two shooting from three. He would be the first Trail Blazers with consecutive games of 15 points, three three-pointers and three assists off the bench since Greg Anthony in 1999.
“I thought I shot the ball pretty well in the first half, made some good plays,” said McCollum, who finished with 15 points and three assists in 27 minutes. “Obviously some things I need to work on as a rookie. Got to cut down on the turnovers, but that’s going to happen when you’re trying to be aggressive and make plays. But I’ve got to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
McCollum’s shooting would help Portland take a 55-45 lead into the intermission, even with Oklahoma City’s Jeremy Lamb scoring also scoring ten in the quarter.
The Thunder would rally in the third, shooting 63 percent from the field and 43 percent from three in the quarter. Both Durant and Reggie Jackson would score 13 points in the third to help Oklahoma City outscore Portland 35-25 in the quarter to tie the game at 80-80 going into the fourth quarter.
“We fought hard,” said Durant, who finished with a game-high 36 points on 15 of 28 shooting while pulling down 10 rebounds. “We’re a resilient team. We’re not happy only when we’re winning, we keep our heads up through adversity, through tough times.”
Portland’s defense stiffened up in the fourth quarter with the Trail Blazers holding the Thunder to 30 percent shooting. But Portland would shoot just 23 percent from the field, missing all seven of their three-point attempts in the final 12 minutes.
Though they struggled mightily from the field, Portland lead 95-93 with 1:54 to play after a Robin Lopez putback. On the next possession, the Jackson would find Lamb in the corner for a three-pointer, which would be the last made field goal of the night for either team, to give the Thunder the lead for good. Lamb would finish with 19 points of the bench on eight of 11 shooting.
“Especially in the first half, they made some hay when Durant was on the bench and (Lamb) had a lot to do with it,” said Stotts. “He’s becoming a much more confident player as the season goes on. I think one of the byproducts of (Thunder point guard Russell) Westbrook being out is that guys like Lamb and Jackson (17 points, six rebounds, five assists) are taking it upon themselves to look to score a little bit more.”
The Blazers would be led by Nicolas Batum, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half to go along with four assists and a rebound in 38 minutes. Aldridge turned got his 33rd double-double of the season with 12 rebounds and 12 points, though he shot just five of 22 from the field.
Lopez also finished with a double-double, his 18th of the season, with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Lillard finished with 16 points, seven assists and Wesley Matthews rounded out Portland’s double-digit scorers with 11.
Next up, the Trail Blazers head Los Angeles to play the Clippers, a team currently in fourth player in the Western Conference standings, in their final game before the All-Star break.
“I think it makes it a bigger game for us because the Clippers are right behind us and we lost a tough one tonight,” said Lillard. “So not only do we not want to lose two games in a row, we don’t want to go down there and lose to a team that’s right on our backs.”
Tipoff is schedule for 7:30 PM.