The Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers are alike in a lot of ways. They both have rabid fanbases who are fiercely loyal to their players, and in spite of first-round exits the last two years, both teams have the full force and backing of their respective cities.
Both the Thunder and the Blazers have a fiery point guard who is capable of erupting for a historical night, and so far, the highlight of the series has been the back-and-forth between Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard.
Russell Westbrook is one of the most passionate players to ever play the game. He rarely holds back, and his fierce tenacity is often a problem as it can get him in trouble from time to time. In 11 seasons, in the regular season and postseason combined, Westbrook has racked up 138 technical fouls, 13 flagrant fouls, and 6 ejections.
Damian Lillard, however, is much more subdued when it comes to his external disposition. While he shows some emotion from time to time, he’s more of a silent assassin as he knocks down clutch shot after clutch shot and simply points to his wrist to show that it’s “Dame Time.” Compared to Westbrook, Lillard is an innocent angel. In his 6 seasons, in the regular season and postseason combined, Lillard has just 14 technical fouls, 0 flagrant fouls, and 0 ejections.
Game 3 saw a lot of different emotions from start to finish. Russell Westbrook pulled out his signature “rock the baby” move after scoring on Lillard time and time again, Dennis Schröder played his part by pretending to swaddle a baby on the sideline—and even mocking Damian Lillard by pointing to his wrist to say “it’s time”—and Blazers forward Maurice Harkless was ejected after picking up a technical foul for a scuffle with Paul George before throwing his headband into the crowd.
To cap off the emotional win for the Thunder, Paul George finished the game by throwing down a monstrous reverse dunk, and even though it was just after the buzzer and did not count towards the score, it caused a buzz in the media for quite sometime after the game.
This series smells of the classic age of basketball of bitter rivalries, physical matchups, and boiling emotions.
The key to winning Game 4—and the series, for that matter—is being in control not just of what is happening on the court with the basketball, but what is happening within the minds of the players. The Thunder is a passionate team led by the fiercest of competitors in Russell Westbrook, but if they cannot control their emotions, then the Blazers could easily play mind games and win the series with ease.
OKC has to control the emotions of the game, and regardless of the way that officials are calling the game or the Blazers are playing their strategy, the Thunder has to win the mental battle in order to win the series.
(Cover photo by Loud City Photography)
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