Before tip-off, Kevin Durant knew that if things were close down the stretch he’d be switched over to guard Brandon Roy.
Such knowledge—that he’s trusted by Thunder coach Scotty Brooks as a stopper who can turn the tide—provides Durant with a little extra motivation. The humble young superstar admitted as much afterwards—the added responsibility throws jets on already raging flame.
The team’s defensive shift and ensuing motivation were the difference, as in the fourth quarter and late crunch moments, Durant was able to slow down Roy’s isolations as his teammates grabbed loose balls, rushed the basket and made hustle plays. The effort afforded Oklahoma City a stunning come-from-behind, 107-106 overtime victory Thursday at the Rose Garden.
Afterwards, the Blazers’ locker room was dead silent. Nicolas Batum was sitting motionless, quietly pondering what went wrong as Marcus Camby, with a thousand yard stare, stood blankly before his locker. Everyone moved slowly. And when the Blazers finally turned around to take questions, they spoke in hushed tones.
Wesley Matthews, who has a fierce and effective game on both of ends of court, was outwardly perturbed. Joel Przybilla, who was in-active, walked down the tunnel with a red face and loosend tie. During the game, after a would-be scoring opportunity turned in a turnover of LaMarcus Aldridge’s open hands, Brandon Roy punched the basket’s pad a la Kevin Garnett. I’ve never seen him do that before.
But it was more than just Durant and the Thunder defense that caused Portland to cough up a 13-point third quarter lead. There were the little things.
“We beat ourselves,” coach McMillan said. But of the many bad late-shot-clock jumpers clanged and turnovers handed out by the Blazers, it was a lack of rebounding which stuck most in McMillan’s craw.
With the Blazers up two, ten-odd seconds remained in regulation. Durant missed a contested jumper but Portland was unable to corral the miss. On his second try, Serge Ibaka’s tip went in, knotting the game at 100.
As the final seconds ticked away, Roy had chance for the walk-off. He isolated high, behind the three-point line on the angle. He faked Durant into the air, stepped through, and missed short.
Once overtime was through, Roy put together 19 points by hitting six of 17 from the field.
Coach McMillan critiqued the Blazers sudden sloppy play. “We beat ourselves,” he said.
The collapse was all the more surprising, as through three quarters the Trail Blazers were near perfect. They played team-first basketball, hustled, always seeming to secure the offensive rebound or to make a smart play.
By overtime, however, the Blazers were getting nothing. The only field goal of the extra period, an Armon Johnson three, came after the game was out of reach.
The Trail Blazers late-game offense became more limited, as LaMarcus Aldridge, fouled out with 1:08 remaining in overtime. Earlier, Aldridge simply abused Jeff Green and the rest of the Thunder’s undersized front line. As the game went on, the Trail Blazers stopped pushing the ball inside.
Aldridge finished with a team-high 22, eight of which coming on similar back-door alley-oops dunks. On two more back-door attempts, the Thunder fouled Aldridge in the act.
But even before Aldridge fouled out, the Blazers were failing to exude any semblance of an offense—the Thunder had upped their energy against the will of a wailing Rose Garden. Scotty Brooks was proud of his team’s resolve.
Brooks’ star player extolled the same values, that the Thunder are a defensive team. The coach and player may, however, differ on one point: Durant said he feels like the Thunder are right where they left off last year. Indeed, after squeaking out a come-from-behind victory against a divisional opponent—in front of their energetic crowd, no less—Durant and co. have reason to feel good.
Portland, on the other hand, looked a little bit shell-shocked.
- As good as Durant was offensively, by flying down the lanes, Russell Westrook tied him for a game-high 28.
- Andre Miller had a game-high 11 assists, and at times abused the Thunder’s smaller defenders.