Even before the game started, weird things were happening. Russell Westbrook’s technical from last night was rescinded by the league, so no suspension. Word came down that the newly-Frail Blazers were going to be missing both LaMarcus Aldridge and Arron Afflalo; what’s more, Nicolas Batum banged up his knee after ten minutes and no points, and was not seen again. This one, pronounced the last Chesapeake Arena crowd of the season, might even be winnable; and the 35-21 first quarter reinforced that possibility. Then the Thunder went colder than a mother-in-law’s kiss, coming up with only 14 points in the second, and Portland trailed by seven at the half. Over the next 12 minutes, the Thunder gradually extended that lead to eleven; over the next six, the Blazers gradually shrank it down to six. (Who knew that Meyers Leonard could shoot the three-ball?) The pivot point, if you ask me, came when the Blazers decided they would foul Steven Adams, who is to free throws what Shaquille O’Neal is to, um, free throws. Adams promptly sank two of them, putting the Thunder up eleven, and they were still up eleven at the horn, 101-90. This puts OKC at 44-37 with one game to go, at Minnesota Wednesday. Meanwhile in Minnesota, the Pelicans were spanking the Wolves, 100-88, pushing their own record to 44-37.
Let it be said, though: Meyers Leonard can shoot the three-ball. The Blazers only had eight makes all night, and Leonard, team-high with 24 points, had five of them, in nine tries. (The Thunder in aggregate made only four.) The only other Portland starter in double figures was Damian Lillard, with 10, but three of the reserves (Joel Freeland, Chris Kaman, Alonzo Gee) combined for 40. (The entire Thunder bench had only 15, 11 of them from Anthony Morrow.)
Hobbled by another lousy shooting night — 41 percent, 4-21 on treys, eight missed free throws out of 27 — the Thunder won this one on the boards, with a startling 58-35 rebounding advantage, 18-3 on the offensive glass, and in transition, stealing the rock from the Blazers eight times while losing it only once. (OKC had only eight turnovers all night, three of them not from Westbrook.) Russ’s line for the night: 36-11-7. Enes Kanter cashed another double-double (27 points, 13 rebounds), and Steven Adams approached one (8 points, 11 boards).
So here’s the situation, how it really stands: For the Thunder to get into that eighth playoff slot, they must beat the Wolves day after tomorrow, and the Spurs must more or less simultaneously win at New Orleans. Will Gregg Popovich idle the big guns just to shaft OKC? Probably not. San Antonio is idle tonight, but Houston won tonight at Charlotte, and both Spurs and Rockets now sit at 55-26, with the Spurs owning the tiebreaker and the #2 seed. I can’t see Pop wanting to give that up, especially with the Rockets closing out against the 37-43 Jazz. All will be known in forty-eight hours, unless of course there’s overtime.