Thunder Beats Portland, Clinches Playoff Berth
News, notes and observations from Sunday night’s 99-90 win over the Blazers.
- For the second straight season, the Thunder clinched its playoff berth in style. With a win. A no-doubt-about-it win. A we’re-not-backing-into-the-postseason type of performance. At the end of the season, it matters not how you got in. You just want to be in. But it’s always nice to control your own destiny and do it in grand fashion.
- With that said, let’s not make too much of clinching a playoff berth. Be happy, no doubt. But that’s what the Thunder is supposed to do. Sure, this is only the second one in this city’s history. But nights like this, when the home team clinches a playoff berth, should be met with something closer to a collective yawn than a celebratory yell. Again, be happy. But deep playoff runs and championship chases are what you really want to get riled up for.
- For what it’s worth, the Thunder clinched its playoff berth on April 3 last season.
- Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made it a point to call out the media for writing them off as the worst team in basketball history two seasons ago. Like it was the media that went out there and started the season 3-29.
- It’s safe to say this one lived up to expectations of being a big game. The Thunder went up big in the first half. But like all good games, we saw a run. Once Portland closed within five with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, the score never grew larger than the final margin. Westbrook likened the atmosphere to a playoff game and said every possession counted.
- All that was missing was Durant matching wits with Gerald Wallace. While Wallace dumped in 40 points, two shy of tying his career high, Durant went just 5-for-18 from the field for 21 points. KD missed all eight of his field-goal attempts in the second half.
- Westbrook made up for Durant’s rough night by closing the game with some timely buckets and some big plays. Westbrook scored 14 of the Thunder’s 21 points in the fourth quarter and essentially rescued the Thunder from what appeared to be headed for a heartbreaking defeat.
- Of Westbrook’s fourth-quarter offense, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said it, meaning I don’t have to: “I’m not going to sit up here and say they were great shots, but they were big shots.”
- Wallace was out of his mind tonight. You knew going in that the matchups didn’t particularly favor the Thunder. Portland starts Wallace at power forward and LaMarcus Aldridge at center. That left Serge Ibaka to guard Wallace and Kendrick Perkins to defend Aldridge. Don’t think anyone wants to see that again.
- Portland coach Nate McMillan on Wallace’s 40: “If he doesn’t shoot the ball as well as he does, we’re not in this game.”
- Wallace’s defense on Durant also was some of the best I’ve seen all year. Wallace did a good job of being physical and fighting through screens. And I lost count of how many times Wallace drew an offensive foul on Durant, or any other Thunder player for that matter.
- Don’t forget about Durant’s defense on Wallace down the stretch, though. It was stellar. Maybe not shut-down quality. But a big-time game changer, no doubt. Wallace was abusing Ibaka from the outside, and Durant switched onto Wallace and slowed him down considerably. Said Westbrook: “Kevin told us during a timeout in the fourth quarter that he wouldn’t score again. And ever since then he didn’t score again. He did a good job of defending him.”
- KD’s 0-for-8 second half shouldn’t overshadow that last stretch of D. Two years ago, or even last season, If Durant missed all eight of his shot attempts in the second half, he might as well have parked it on the pine. But a part of his maturation as a player and evolution as a superstar includes nights like tonight. When the shots aren’t falling, what are you going to do to make an impact? When you can’t get a call, how are you going to overcome the adversity. Tonight, KD did it on the defensive end. “A lot better,” Westbrook marveled. “Everybody’s criticized him on that and he’s done a great job of coming out and working hard on whoever he’s got to guard each game.”
- Here’s what Durant said about switching over: “I’m just trying to play as hard as I can. I know I’m not the greatest defender in the world. But I think my effort and my hard work makes up for that. I just tried to fight him and make him shoot tough shots, make him shoot jump shots. I got my hands on a couple of basketballs and was able to contest some shots.”
- My question is where was Thabo Sefolosha the whole time Wallace was going off?
- Perkins and Ibaka had the plays of the game with their back-to-back blocks on Aldridge and Andre Miller. Those two rejections preserved a four-point lead and led to Westbrook’s run-out layup that bumped the lead to six with 52.9 ticks remaining. “That’s team defense,” Westbrook said. That’s crunch time defense and that’s what we need to go forward as a team.”
- OK, I can’t help it. Westbrook needs to pass the ball. Nine times out of 10 you can just tell as soon as he gets the rock if he’s going to shoot it or not. Most of the time, it’s early in the shot clock or on stalled possessions that see him pounding the air out of the ball before finally making a move and forcing something. I don’t think I have to note how crummy the ball movement was tonight. That starts with the point guard!
- Now, let me be fair. It only took 72 games. But I’m officially torn. After tonight, I honestly can’t decide whether Westbrook is a ball hog or if he should keep doing what he’s doing. As hard as it is on the eyes at times, I have to give the guy credit. What he’s doing works a good amount of the time. His pull-up jumper might be predictable and selfish. But it goes in. His drives to the basket might come as a first option. But he’s putting pressure on the D. If I saw Derrick Rose doing these same things, I’d be the first one screaming ‘Great play!’ Maybe it’s time for me to just realize that Westbrook is a star and deserves the leeway he’s been given.
- Westbrook continues to have a knack for making big 3-pointers. I asked him about it after the game. He said: “The 3-ball is kind of something I just don’t need to shoot unless it’s needed. That’s kind of when I take them.” Quietly, Westbrook has made 11 of 22 3-pointers this month.
- When asked about Westbrook’s dagger 3, Durant said it was one of those ‘No, no, no, what are you doi…good shot!” situations. “I think everybody was doing that,” Durant said. “But you know once Russ takes a 3 like that he feels confident he’s going to make it…Once it left his hands, I was like, ‘It’s going in.’”
- McMillan on Westbrook: “He’s turning into a big-time player. He’s making big plays.”
- I’d be interested in seeing Durant’s career numbers on national television. I know he’s had a few good games. But I know that I know he’s had a lot of stinkers.
- Found it interesting that Aldridge and Wes Matthews didn’t back down from Perk when he tried to intimidate them early on.
- Man, this would be a great playoff series.
- Take a bow, Thunder heads, for booing the bleep out of the refs on that bogus offensive foul call on KD. The refs deserved every second of your boos. And they got an earful of a lot of seconds. The looks on their faces trying to ignore the reaction was priceless.
- Steve Max, or whatever his name is. The halftime Simon Says guy. He’s up there with Quick Change in my book.
- I feel bad for Blazers fans. And I hate to say it. But in three years, there is a good chance that Brandon Roy is going to be the new Michael Redd. If he’s already coming off the bench and playing 12 to 15 minutes in the first year of his new contract, where’s he going to be in year four?
- My apologizes for the late post. Had computer trouble for much of the game. Technology really stinks sometimes. Hopefully it was worth the wait.
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