Durant, defense lift Thunder as Blazers lose another close one
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Trail Blazers' 98-95 loss to Oklahoma City Tuesday night at the Moda Center is this:
Portland's top three scorers -- LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews -- combined to make only 12 of 47 shots from the field.
Yet the Blazers probably would have won had Aldridge sunk a wide-open 18-foot jump shot inside the final three seconds, with OKC clinging to a 96-95 lead.
That was the margin between victory and defeat for Portland, which shot .376 from the field -- including only 7 for 23 from 3-point range -- and still came within a gnat's eyelash of a huge win.
The Thunder (42-12) and Blazers (36-16) wound up with a four-game split of the season series. After Portland prevailed in two very competitive contests, the Thunder came from behind to win each of the final two meetings.
"It drains you a little bit to know you got up in those (last) two games," Lillard said. "We had one down there and they came back to win the game (105-97 on Jan. 21). Same thing tonight. But we can't pout about it. We have another tough one" Wednesday night.
That's at the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Clippers (36-18), who with a victory can move into a virtual tie with Portland for the third-best record in the NBA Western Conference.
"This makes that game even bigger," Lillard said. "The Clippers are right behind us. 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."
Oklahoma City entered the game as the NBA's No. 2 team in opponents' field-goal percentage (.430). Even with Kevin Durant bombing in 36 points -- what else is new? -- defense was the Thunder's calling card Tuesday night. Especially against the All-Star Game-bound Aldridge, who experienced one his poorest shooting performances of the season.
Aldridge was 5 for 22 from the field, including 0 for 9 in the second half. He finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds but had only a pair of free throws in the scoring column after intermission, hounded by OKC center Kendrick Perkins, with help all around.
"'Perk' was fantastic," OKC coach Scotty Brooks said. "He made Aldridge work for every catch, every shot that he took."
Aldridge was in position to be the hero in the closing seconds of a wild final minute.
Jeremy Lamb's 3-pointer with 1:38 to go had given the Thunder a 96-95 lead.
Neither team scored again until Reggie Jackson -- who tallied all 17 of his points in the second half -- made a pair at the line with .6 of a second remaining.
But there was plenty of action in between.
After a Durant miss and an Aldridge rebound with 22 seconds left, the Blazers got the ball to Lillard, who raced upcourt and drove to the basket, drawing some body from Perkins on his way to the hoop. No foul, and Lillard lost the ball out of bounds. He thought Perkins had touched the ball, but a video review showed it was not so, and the Thunder earned possession.
After a timeout, the visitors took the ball at midcourt. The inbounds pass to Durant was heavily defended by Portland's Nicolas Batum and went out of bounds. The officials called it OKC ball, but the call was reversed after replay showed the ball went off Durant's fingers.
After a timeout, Batum inbounded to Lillard, who was well-defended. He passed to Aldridge, who pump-faked a flying Perkins and wound up with an open shot from just beyond the foul line. But he clanked the shot, which was rebounded by the Thunder.
"We ran a high pick-and-roll," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "If they committed to Damian, we felt L.A. would be open. I can live with the shot. He has made a living on that shot."
"Any time your best player gets that type of look -- the shot he makes all the time -- you live with that," seconded Lillard. "He didn't make it this time. If we did it 10 more times, we'd do it all over again. That was perfect, to get that look."
After Aldridge's miss, Jackson was fouled. And there even some final drama after the OKC point guard drained two to put his team ahead by three.
Portland inbounded in frontcourt after a timeout, and there was confusion with the Thunder regarding who was to defend Lillard. While Jackson and Thabo Sefolosha frantically argued the point, Lillard spotted up in the right corner. Batum got him the ball, but Lillard's shot was still a little hurried and caught nothing but air as time expired.
Stotts said the game reminded him of last Friday's 118-113 overtime loss at Indiana.
"We did a lot of good things, stayed in the game, had a chance to win," the second-year Portland coach said. "We didn't shoot the ball very well in the second half. We had a lot of shots we normally make, shots that we should shoot a better percentage on. But I liked the way we battled."
The Blazers were so close to important victories over the teams with the league's best records -- Indiana and Oklahoma City. On Tuesday night, they jumped in front 19-6, were still ahead 55-45 at halftime and had a great chance to win down the stretch. Just like against the Pacers.
"You'd like to have one or both of those games," said Portland center Robin Lopez, who had an excellent game with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting and 14 rebounds. "But now we have to focus on the next one."
Do these losses hurt more than usual?
"All losses suck," Stotts said. "We feel like we're one of the better teams in the league. We want to defend home court. It's disappointing, but no more so than any other loss."
Portland shot .500 from the field (20 for 40) in the first half, .267 (12 for 45) in the second half. Lillard finished 5 for 15 from the field -- 1 for 7 from beyond the arc -- and Matthews was 2 for 10 and 0 for 4.
But Aldridge -- who had averaged 30.7 points and 14.3 rebounds in the first three meetings with OKC -- was the poster child for shooting futility, especially after intermission.
"He missed some shots," Stotts said. "It's not like (the Thunder) took him out of the game. They played physical defense, but they didn't do anything special."
Durant made 15 of 28 shots from the field and grabbed 10 rebounds, but he only had two assists with eight turnovers in his 38 minutes.
"On the whole, our defense was pretty good," Stotts said. "He's going to take his shots. We made him work for the points he had. Wes and Nic worked hard and did a good job on him."
Over its last eight games, Portland is shooting .411 from the field, including .300 from 3-point range. In four of those games, the Blazers have shot .380 or worse from the field. They are shooting .380 from beyond the arc for the season, fourth in the NBA.
Portland rookie C.J McCollum had his third straight big game off the bench, going for 13 of his 15 points in the first half. He made 4 of 5 shots -- including 3 of 3 from the 3-point line -- in the half, but was only 1 for 7 in the second half and had five turnovers in 27 minutes.
"I shot the ball pretty well in the first half," he said, "but I need to do a better job of taking care of the ball."
Portland lost despite a sizable advantage at the foul line, making 24 of 27 attempts to 11 of 12 for OKC.
The Thunder shot .482 from the field, however, making eight more field goals than the Blazers.
After starting the season 22-4, Portland is 14-12 over the last 26 games. The Blazers are 19-6 at home.
Portland reserve center-forward Joel Freeland is expected to miss four to eight weeks after suffering an MCL sprain to his right knee in the first quarter Tuesday night.
Portland reserve guard Mo Williams missed his third straight game after returning to his native Alabama to be with his sister, who is ill. Williams, who was in the Blazers' locker room after the game, said he intends to play against the Clippers.
Aldridge had averaged 30.7 points and 14.3 rebounds in his three previous games against the Thunder this season.
It was his 33rd double-double of the season, Lopez's 19th and Durant's 18th.
In the four games against OKC, Lillard shot .356 from the field and averaged 16.3 points and 7.0 assists.
Portland is 19-9 in games won by 10 points or fewer.
Batum led six players scoring in double figures with 18 points for the Blazers, with 16 of his points in the second half.
Portland has gone 14 games without reaching double digits in 3-point shots made after reaching that level in 19 of the first 38 games.
Durant, Lamb (19 points on 8-for-11 shooting) and Jackson combined for 72 points. The rest of the Thunder scored 26 points.
Durant, who leads the league with a 31.2-point scoring average, has scored at least 26 points in each of his last 19 games. He is averaging 38 points in the four games against Portland, going for at least 30 each time.
Jackson missed his first nine shots from the field before finishing 7 for 19.
Durant played 38 minutes, right on his average, which ranks third in the NBA.
"That's a good number for him," Brooks said before the game. "It gives him plenty of time to rest during the game. I pick and choose when he needs more (rest). A lot of times it depends on the schedule. We do a good job of managing minutes on the court. You have to prepare yourself all year long to handle it, and he's done a great job of that."