Without the services of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Andre Roberson, the Thunder was without its usual ensemble of playmakers throughout Wednesday night’s bout in Portland, and the Blazers took advantage of the situation and walked away with a 120-115 victory.
The four OKC starters who sat out were resting, seeing the Thunder locked up the Western Conference’s third seed with a win over the Nuggets on Tuesday and had nothing to gain by beating Portland.
While they had nothing to gain, some would argue OKC had something to lose by winning. Portland is currently jockeying with the injury-riddled Grizzles for the fifth and sixth seeds in the Western conference, and since the Thunder play against the sixth seed in the first round, one can assume the Thunder would much rather play either Memphis or one of the other West options (Dallas, Utah, Houston) instead of grinding out a tough series with Portland.
Therefore, OKC needs the Blazers to keep winning so Portland can secure the fifth seed, and it probably wasn’t a coincidence the Thunder opted to rest its guys when it did.
While the Thunder isn’t itching to see the Blazers in the postseason, it’s likely that Portland would equally like to avoid that matchup by winning enough games down the stretch, and Tuesday was definitely a good start.
Portland took advantage of the short-handed Thunder out of the gates, and put were leading double-digits within the first six minutes of the game. Portland’s first five baskets were from behind the arc and OKC was suddenly playing catch up from the jump.
Portland scoring behind the arc, Blazers up 15-6 #News9Thunder— Steve McGehee (@SteveMcGehee) April 7, 2016
The Thunder got within seven points at the end of the first quarter, but Portland began to really pull away in the second frame and entered halftime with a 72-59 lead.
Blazers up to twelve 3's, lead 82-63 in 3rd #News9Thunder— Steve McGehee (@SteveMcGehee) April 7, 2016
Portland quickly ripped off a 12-to-4 run out of intermission as its lead ballooned to 21 points after a pair of Damian Lillard free throws less than three minutes into the third.
Despite the giant deficit, OKC didn't go out without a fight. Led by the low post presence of Enes Kanter, the Thunder clawed all the way back to get within 10 points with 9:15 left in the third.
Portland needs a timeout to figure out Kanter, Enes 31pts, 14 rebs, Thunder only down 10 #News9Thunder— Steve McGehee (@SteveMcGehee) April 7, 2016
OKC then got as close as five points before the final buzzer, but Portland was never in real danger of losing as the Blazers officially clinch a spot in the playoffs with the win.
Kanter scored a career high 33 points to go with his whopping 20 rebounds in the loss, while Dion Waiters added 25 points. Anthony Morrow scored 18 points while Steven Adams nearly tallied a double-double with nine points and 12 rebounds. Josh Huestis also played well in his 21 minutes of playing time, recording six points and six rebounds. It'll be interesting to see if Donovan will look to Huestis more in the future. OKC totaled 18 assists compared to 17 turnovers.
Six Portland players scored in double digits in the win led by Al-Farouq Aminu with 27 points. C.J. McCollum added 26 points while Lillard was held to only 11 points and nine assists.
The Thunder will have the next two days off and will be back in action on Saturday night in Sacramento.