Welcome to 5-7-9

Not the mall store for “junior” sizes, but an unfortunate circumstance facing the Oklahoma City Thunder: five games in seven days with only nine players. To make matters worse — how could they be worse? — this stretch begins with a back-to-back on the West Coast. And as we all know, Portland’s hospitality, at least on their home court, is decidedly limited. Still, you play ’em as they come, and the OKC starting five was Westbrook, Roberson, Jones, Ibaka and Adams. Through three quarters, this sort of worked, with the Trail Blazers occasionally taking a small lead but the Thunder battling back: the final frame started with OKC up 77-75.

Then the Blazers ran 8-0 in just over two minutes, and things unwound. With 8:40 left, Russell Westbrook returned; three minutes later, he’d managed to go 1-4, and Portland was up 10. Quipped Royce Young: “If anything, I think Scott Brooks’ biggest mistake is not playing Kevin Durant a single minute tonight. I mean, what’s he thinking?” The Blazers were up 16 before Brooks waved the white flag, and the PDXers gave the starters, departing at 2:20, a standing O. They’d earned it. Portland 106, Oklahoma City 89, a nineteen-point shift in twelve minutes flat.

Of the OKC starters, Perry Jones perhaps came off the worst: he couldn’t play defense, but he couldn’t shoot either (1-9, 3 points). And while Westbrook still wound up with 38 points, it was distressingly evident that he’d have to do it alone: only Serge Ibaka (10 points, four blocks) and reserve forward Lance Thomas (7-10, 14 points) presented any offense. Meanwhile, all five Portland starters, plus sixth man Chris Kaman, hit double figures: LaMarcus Aldridge checked in with 27 (10-19), and Wesley Matthews added 22 (8-12). Telltale Statistic for the night: the Blazers, 2-15 from three-point land in the first half, went 9-14 in the second, with six coming in the fourth quarter while the Thunder were quieted to a low moan.

And just like that, it’s off to Los Angeles, to play the good team at the Staples Center. The Clippers, I suspect, will be even tougher.

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