It didn’t matter, really, that the Trail Blazers had been 11 games below .500; getting a win in Portland is always a little more difficult than you’d think, so you have to rely on things going Just Right. With 1:35 left in the first half, the Blazers had a solid nine-point lead. Russell Westbrook tossed up a trey. The Blazers could not score, and Westbrook tossed up another trey. The Blazers could not score, but they were damned if Westbrook would get another trey, so they fouled him. He hit all three free throws. And at the end of the half, just for the hell of it, Taj Gibson pulled off a steal, 70 feet or so from the bucket, and hoisted the shot. It went in. Thunder up 62-59 at the half. But OKC could not pull away from the pesky Blazers; they ran their lead to eight early in the fourth quarter, but by 3:43 Portland had tied it up again, and shortly thereafter the Blazers were up seven, then nine. At :32 the Thunder had pulled to within four again; 15 seconds later, Alex Abrines knocked down a trey from the corner, and suddenly it was 110-109. But that was the end of it; Damien Lillard came up with four free throws to put it out of reach. The Thunder hadn’t won in Portland since 2014, and they would not tonight; the Blazers finished them off, 114-109, and took a 2-1 lead in the season series.
One of the Blazers’ unsecret weapons is the Balanced Attack. Six of them made double figures, led by the sturdy Lillard with 33. Manning the middle was Jusuf Nurkić, who rang up an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double. Meanwhile, Thunder starters came up with 57 points, but 45 of them came from Westbrook. The bench did better, Enes Kanter with 18 and Taj Gibson with 15, but that’s an awful lot of points that weren’t gotten. (The newly arrived Norris Cole played 11 minutes and scored 7.)
No time to nurse their wounds, either; the Thunder are due in Phoenix Friday night. The Suns aren’t all that good, but they aren’t all that bad either.