On the first night of a back-to-back mini road trip, the Oklahoma City Thunder left Portland with a 109-114 loss to the Trail Blazers. The Thunder started off poorly as the Blazers took a 12-point lead midway through the first quarter, but Oklahoma City fought back and ended the quarter trailing only 24-26. In the second quarter, the Thunder briefly took a lead before the Trail Blazers started hitting threes and regained a 9-point lead with 1:34 left in the half, but Oklahoma City poured on a barrage of points, including a ridiculous 61-footer at the buzzer by Taj Gibson, to enter the half up 60-57.
Both teams came out of the locker room after halftime ready to go, and the Thunder were able to maintain their lead finishing the 3rd quarter up 85-81. Oklahoma City looked like they were going to close out the game and pick up their 4th win in a row, but with just 5:41 left in the game and a 7-point lead, the Thunder let the game slip away as Portland went on a 16-0 run to take a 110-101 lead over Oklahoma City with 59.8 seconds left in the game. Andre Roberson hit two free throws to break the run, and the Thunder made a valiant effort to recoup the lost lead as they were trailing by 3 with 10.8 seconds to go, but Westbrook missed a three, and Oklahoma City could not pull out the win.
Westbrook Drops 45, Struggles in 4th
Russell Westbrook continued his scoring tear as of late as he broke the 40-point mark for the third consecutive game, his second such streak of the season. He hit 40 points in the 3rd quarter and looked like he was well on his way to breaking his career-high of 54 points, but he scored just 5 points on 2/11 shooting in the 4th quarter.
While a loss can never truly be pinned on one player, Westbrook’s play towards the end of the game was most definitely a heavy contributor to the Thunder’s incapability to finish the game on top. Multiple possessions in the final quarter ended with Russ taking a poor shot, and while he has consistently been the most clutch player in the league this season, his efforts came up short tonight.
Westbrook finished the game with 45 points while shooting 12/36 (33.3%) from the floor, 6/16 (37.5%) from three, and 15/15 (100%) from the free throw line, to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
Bench Gets It Done, Non-Russ Starters Do Not
The Thunder bench had one of its most successful nights of the season as it poured in 52 points compared to Portland’s 33. Enes Kanter led the way for the second unit with 18 points on 6/13 (46.2%) from the floor while pulling down 10 rebounds to pick up his 13th double-double of the season.
Taj Gibson also had another solid night by scoring 15 points on 6/9 (66.7%) from the field to go with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Lastly, Doug McDermott struggled from deep, but he still managed to score 9 points while shooting 4/12 (33.3%).
Unfortunately, the bench’s impressive play could not makeup for the lack of scoring from starters not named Russell Westbrook. Behind Westbrook’s 45 points, Alex Abrines was the next highest-scoring starter with 6 points, while Steven Adams and Domantas Sabonis had 2 points apiece, and Andre Roberson was held scoreless. Overall, the four starters shot just 4/11 (36.3%) from the floor. Whether Westbrook took too many shots, or his teammates did not take enough, tonight’s output cannot be repeated if the Thunder want to continue winning games.
Norris Cole Impresses in Debut
One bright side to tonight’s loss was the impressive debut of Thunder newcomer backup point guard Norris Cole. Cole played only 11 minutes tonight, but in his short time on the floor, he showed that he may be just what Oklahoma City needs coming off the bench to relieve Russell Westbrook.
In his 11 minutes, Cole scored 7 points while shooting 2/5 (40%) from the field, including 1/1 (100%) from three, and 2/2 (100%) from the free throw line. He also had 2 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal, and 0 turnovers. Cole is not going to be a superstar for the Thunder coming off the bench, but he has championship experience from his time with the Miami Heat, and with his ability to score in a number of ways, he brings a lot skill to the second unit which often struggles to find points.
On to Phoenix
Oklahoma City continues its brief road trip as it heads to Phoenix to take on the Suns tomorrow. The Suns are 19-42, and they are struggling to find wins this season. The Thunder won the first two matchups against the Suns, but Phoenix will try for a different outcome as they attempt to win consecutive games for the first time since January. Tip-off is set for 8 PM, and the game will be televised on FSOK. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.