For just a moment — okay, for twelve minutes — it looked like the Thunder were going to stomp the Trail Blazers. It was 40-29 at the first quarter break. Then Portland ran off 11 in a row to tie it up, and the Blazers didn’t let up. How dominant were they? We’re talking seven players (out of nine) in double figures, led by reserve guard Allan Crabbe with 23. (The word “reserve” matters here; seven Thunder bench players in aggregate managed only 26.) OKC did manage a tie or two, but with 31 seconds left the Blazers were up 120-116, those last four points contributed by Jusuf Nurkić. In the next five seconds, Steven Adams threw up a high screen, everyone went after Russell Westbrook, and Victor Oladipo sneaked through a trey, making it a one-point game. Inexplicably, Westbrook fouled C. J. McCollum, one of the stalwarts of the stripe. McCollum promptly swished his two charity tosses. Westbrook had a good look on his next shot, but it fell short, and Nurkić essentially finished the job. Yeah, there was one more Westbrook shot, but Damien Lillard drew a foul and knocked down two more, so it ended with Portland up 126-121, winning the season series 3-1.
It seemed like there was always one more Westbrook shot. In fact, the Thunder put up 85 shots, and Westbrook had 39 of them, making 21 and finishing with a career-high 58 points. (Before you ask: the rest of the team got 63.) I suspect he’s less impressed by that than the fact that it’s another L. The Thunder had a slight edge in rebounds (39-36), but the Blazers did that whole assist thing better (24-16). To look upward for a moment: Memphis has lost three straight and remains one game ahead of OKC for the sixth seed in the West. Denver remains in eighth, five and a half back, but the Blazers are only one and a half behind the Nuggets.
The crunch, though, is clearly on. There are only 18 regular-season games left, nine at home, nine on the road, and while the Thunder are a better-than-respectable 23-9 at home, they’re an indifferent 12-20 on the road. The next two are at home, but they’re against recognized powerhouses: first the Spurs on Thursday, followed by the Jazz on Saturday afternoon. I’m readying the fainting couch.
And about an hour after the game, ESPN’s Royce Young delivered the statistical blow:
What can we learn from this?