What do you do if you’re missing two defensive specialists? If you’re Scott Brooks, you replace Serge Ibaka with Nick Collison, and Thabo Sefolosha with DeAndre Liggins. Yes, really. The rook, who has played well in the D-League, got his first real-life NBA start tonight at the Rose Garden, and he turned in a Thaboesque line: 11 points and nine rebounds before turning his ankle with 45 seconds left. (He made it back after a timeout.) The industrial-strength battle, though, was between Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, who just kept running up numbers all through the fourth quarter. OKC had a ten-point lead with three and a half left; Portland went on an 9-0 run, finally closed out by a Kendrick Perkins free throw. With 8.5 left, it was Oklahoma City 85, Portland 83; Aldridge, bothered by Perkins, missed a jumper, and Russell Westbrook snagged the ball. The Blazers fouled Westbrook, who sank two from the line, and that was it for Portland’s nine-game home winning streak at home. OKC 87, Portland 83; Durant 33, Aldridge 33. You can’t get a whole lot closer than that.
The Blazers had other problems: indifferent 36.5-percent shooting and six men on the bench contributing a whole six points. Still, Portland is known for tenacity, and Nicolas Batum is known for getting a bunch of points in a hurry, as is rookie point guard Damian Lillard. Batum delivered (21); Lillard, not so much (9, half his average).
This was not the best night for Westbrook or, for that matter, for Kevin Martin to have off-nights. Still, Westbrook managed 18 points on 5-21 from the floor, while K-Mart kept coming up empty. (He finished with four.) Reggie Jackson led the bench with six. And while Perk had only one bucket to go with that single free throw (he missed one), he solidified the middle and secured 12 rebounds, more than anyone else except Aldridge.
Tomorrow night, it’s another shot at the Suns. A lot depends on whether Thabo and Serge are back unless, like tonight, it didn’t.