The Oklahoma City Thunder entered Game 3 down 2-0 in the series to the Portland Trail Blazers, and a loss tonight would have all but guaranteed another first-round exit for the boys in blue. After Game 2, Russell Westbrook vowed to play better, and he did just that as he led the Thunder to a convincing 120-108 victory over the Blazers.
Defense Makes the Difference
The Thunder’s offense has struggled to hit shots all series long, but the lack of effort on defense at times is absolutely inexcusable. OKC did a much better job tonight, for the most part, and in the end, it was what won them the game.
After allowing only 39 points in the entire first half, Damian Lillard went crazy in the third quarter as he scored 25 of Portland’s 43 points for the period.
Oklahoma City’s defense answered in the fourth quarter to hold Portland to 26 points, and Lillard managed just 3 points, which came from free throws.
For the first half of the season, the Thunder led the league in opponent turnovers with 18. Tonight, the Blazers had 18 turnovers, and that was perhaps the most important stat of the game.
While the Thunder’s offense shot their best of the series by far, specifically from the three-point line, it was the defense that made the difference.
Don’t Settle From Deep
After making just 10 threes combined in Games 1 & 2, Oklahoma City hit 15 tonight on just 29 attempts. While the ridiculous shooting percentage is a welcome treat after having the worst 2-game stretch from three in NBA Playoffs history, the Thunder cannot get satisfied.
Oklahoma City has a bad habit of shooting really well from three in a game only to follow it up with too many attempts and not enough makes in the next one. If the Thunder wants to win Game 4, they need to start by pounding it inside and getting to the free throw line, another area where they excelled tonight.
Not only did the Thunder get to the free throw line 39 times, but they made 31 of their attempts, and that is a number OKC should try to repeat instead of putting up a bunch of shots from downtown.
Role Players are the Real Ones
The old saying goes “Role players play better at home,” and that was the case tonight. After struggling to have much of an impact in Games 1 & 2, the Thunder had several guys step up with impressive performances.
Jerami Grant played a near perfect game, Dennis Schröder hit several clutch shots in the fourth quarter, and Terrance Ferguson did enough on both ends to make the Blazers worry about him. It was just what OKC needed, especially considering how poorly Paul George shot the ball.
Another solid performance from OKC’s role players is essentially necessary to pick up another win and tie the series up at 2-2. It is a tall order to match what they did tonight, but the Thunder plays much better at the ‘Peake, and that rings true for backups.
Thunder Player of the Game
After shooting an abysmal 3-15 (20.0%) combined in Games 1 & 2—including 0-8 (0.0%) from 3—Jerami Grant came up big for the Thunder as he finished with 18 points on 6-7 (85.7%) from the field and 4-5 (80.0%) from 3. His bounce-back game could not have come at a better time, but he needs to continue his strong play to give the Thunder a better chance at winning the series.
The Thunder gets another game at home for Game 4 against the Blazers on Sunday, and a win would do them well so they can head back to Portland with a tied series at 2-2. Tip-off is set for 8:30 PM, and the game will be televised on TNT and Fox Sports Oklahoma. It will also be broadcast on WWLS 98.1 FM.
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