The Oklahoma City Thunder once again put up a fight to the very end, but despite their best efforts, the Portland Trail Blazers were the ones able to leave Chesapeake Energy Arena with a 102-99 victory.
The Thunder offense started the game about as cold as they have been through the first week of the regular season. Despite the inability to knock down shots, OKC kept it close for the first 9 minutes of the game before Portland started to hit shots. After hitting just 5-of-18 (27.8%) from the floor and 1-for-9 (11.1%) from three, the Thunder finished the first quarter trailing 24-17.
Danilo Gallinari was active early for the Thunder, and after a made three gave him 10 points just a few minutes into the second quarter, OKC trailed by just 3. The Blazers could not pull away as the Thunder kept the game within a few points, but as halftime neared, Portland went up by as many as 9 with 3 minutes to go. A 7-0 run cut the deficit to 2, with a little over a minute left in the second quarter, and at the half, Portland led 49-44.
The third quarter was a much stronger showing for Oklahoma City. Fewer than four minutes into the second half, the Thunder tied it all up, and less than a minute later, OKC took the lead. The rest of the period was a real back-and-forth affair, and the Thunder was able to take a 69-68 lead into the final frame.
Many people have been surprised by the Thunder’s ability to be in close games, and tonight, they continued that trend down to the last second. 5 minutes into the fourth quarter, OKC held their largest lead of the night at 81-76, but Portland continued to battle, and with a little over 5 minutes left in the game, the tides began to turn.
Down by 3, Portland had not been very successful shooting the three, and Damian Lillard had every intention of turning that around. Lillard hit a three, and that started a chain reaction of 5 consecutive threes by the Blazers, with 3 of them coming from Lillard, to take a 95-89 lead with 3:20 to play.
The Thunder did everything they could, even cutting the deficit to 2 with 45 seconds left in the game, but it was too late too late, and Portland was able to leave with the 102-99 win.
Learn From This
The Thunder has won just 1 of their 5 games of this season, but of those 4 losses, only 1 has been by double digits. While losing is never fun, it is important that you don’t just leave with it, but you learn from it.
In the past, Oklahoma City has had a way of winning close games: his name was Russell Westbrook. Love him or hate him, the Brodie had a way of coming in clutch, especially when playing in front of the home crowd. Now, the Thunder has a veteran point guard who is past his prime, a few veterans who have never (and will never) be considered as closers, and a bunch of young fellas who are still getting their feet wet in the NBA.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has the makings of a superstar in this league, and he has a lot of young talent around him, but for now, the Thunder just doesn’t have the experience to put games away.
Some may say it’s good for Oklahoma City to lose these games as a passive way of tanking, but I say it’s deeper than that. Whether you’re on the tank train or not (I’m not, for whoever is keeping score), it’s important to use losses as learning experiences, and I would rather lose now—in a season where wins are as useful as a screen door on a submarine—than when they really matter in a few years.
Give this team some time to continue to build chemistry and gain experience, and before long, they’ll be putting teams away in clutch moments rather than crumbling under the pressure.
Thunder Player of the Game
With Steven Adams forced to sit tonight due to a left knee contusion, Nerlens Noel earned the start, and he did a fantastic job filling in for the Big Kiwi. Noel finished the game with 15 points on 6-of-7 (85.7%) from the floor and 3-of-4 (75.0%) from the free throw line, not to mention a game-high 14 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block.
Steven Adams has not played all that well so far this season, and part of that is likely due to the injury, but it’s safe to say that Noel has definitely played well enough to earn some extra minutes when necessary.
Saturday Afternoon Delight
The Thunder will play the second of a 3-game homestand on Saturday afternoon as they host the New Orleans Pelicans (0-4). The Pelicans are without rookie star Zion Williamson, who will likely be out until at least December with a knee injury, and they are one of 2 teams in the NBA (the other being the Sacramento Kings) who remain winless.
Tip-off is set for 4 PM, and the game will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
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